Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On Simple Living

When I talk about simple living, I'm referring to living in ways that are less harmful -- that require less destruction and pollution and oppression.  People might also use "simple living" to mean having a less cluttered house, or a large house where their few possessions leave lots of empty space.  That's a different thing -- one could have that kind of simplicity and still spend a lot of money in support of harmful industries, and pay for a lot of violence and destruction.  We can even spend our weekends protesting against the government and corporations who are carrying out this violence and destruction, while the rest of the week we produce and consume in support of them.  One hand is holding a sign saying "Stop!" while the other hand is giving our money to the object of our protest, implicitly saying "keep it up!".

So simple living is a way to put our money where our mouth is -- in other words, take a holistic view, to integrate all parts of our life into a whole, we might say to live with "integrity".  The reason we practice this kind of simple living is that we desire to be kind to those we love, and recognize that we love all beings -- ourselves, other people, animals, and I say even the trees and mountains.  The same way we try to be kind to those closest to us, and we try to avoid harming them, we can practice being kind and avoiding harm to all.  When this happens, we are more able to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of all beings, similar to how we are able to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of those we love most.

So what could simple living look like in 2017 America?

I can't imagine there's a single general answer, but all of us have steps in this direction that we could take.  Everyone who wants to be kind and stop harming others will find some steps easier to take than others.  There are steps that will be easy for one person to take, while being extremely difficult or impractical for someone else.  It's helpful to be in a place of genuine love, not trying to justify one's actions to feel less guilty, and not trying to impress others.  Perhaps when we're coming from a place of genuine loving kindness, we can celebrate any step that anyone is taking, and we can freely admit our own struggles and the things we do that we feel are harmful but that we are not ready to change for whatever reason.

Maybe a good practical starting place is, wherever we might spend money, to look deeply at what we are paying for and what the consequences are.  Question it with curiosity.  What pollution and destruction and oppression is required to give me this thing, and am I paying to support that pollution and destruction and oppression?  Do I really need it?  If I really need it, is there an alternative that is less harmful?  Am I paying for someone else to do work that I would consider beneath my dignity?

Questioning even one purchase this way could feel overwhelming due to the complexity of today's economy -- and I think that in itself is a valuable insight.  Some are simpler, for example if I buy a banana, I'm giving more profit to the fruit companies that conquered Central America and killed/enslaved/displaced the people there, and continue to occupy the land and destroy rainforest.  Some purchases might seem more benign at first, but on investigation we can see they are entangled with all kinds of destruction and suffering around the world.  The purpose of questioning is not to feel guilty about what we've done, or to figure out a way to justify our actions, but to help us practice kindness toward what we love.

In Portland, in the Food Not Bombs community I wrote of earlier, I found people questioning almost everything in this way, and avoiding harmful things as each had the ability or courage to do so.

Here are some examples of harmful things people were avoiding, which we can all try avoiding to varying extents:
- paying for cars to be driven
- paying for airplane flights
- buying animal products
- buying non-local, non-organic, or packaged food -- this is a big topic I'll say more on someday
- buying food from corporations
- buying anything produced with slave labor
- buying anything produced with any destructive means
- paying taxes
- investing money in harmful business or organizations

I am not completely avoiding all of these things, but I do feel the cognitive dissonance each time I give money toward one of them.

I still possess things that had a high cost in destruction, and will again if I someday replace them.  Most obviously my electronics: smartphone, laptop, and camera.  Even just possessing them, there is a cost, because I could sell or give them away to someone else who would have bought them new, which would reduce the demand by one.  Another one I have yet to address in my own life is investments.  I have a lot of money invested in index funds, because that's what you do when you save money, and I know I am helping to fund large scale destruction... perhaps it won't be long before I figure out what to do with that money instead.

But can one person's actions make a difference?

Yes.  We know this intuitively, that when we do harm or show kindness to another being, it matters.  If anything matters, this does.

Consider the destruction of beautiful forests and rivers and wildlife and cultures and villages that has been paid for by the demand of the "developed" world, and take one individual's share of that, one billionth or whatever it might be.  Just in terms of acres of habitat destroyed or polluted, one individual's share is quite significant.  This is not just statistics -- somewhere, actual trees and animals and indigenous people were killed, and the water poisoned.  I don't want to pay for that.

There are lots of other logical arguments for how one person's actions make a difference, but logical arguments eventually become wearisome.  It is beauty that I love, and whether I can accurately quantify the effects or not, I want to live in a way that feels true and honest in the face of the beauty that I love.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Food Not Bombs in Portland

I've mentioned that I spent time with a loose-knit community of people practicing various extents of "simple living" in Portland.  I want to say more about what I mean by simple living, but here I'll just give an example.

Food Not Bombs is the focal point of the community I mentioned.  Here's how it works.  Three times a week, monday/wednesday/friday, some people gather at 3pm at someone's kitchen and start preparing a meal mainly using fresh produce picked up at the end of farmers markets.  Then at 6ish the food is taken over to a park, where everyone else shows up and shares the meal.  The produce that isn't cooked is available for anyone to take home, along with rescued bread, burritos, etc picked up from shops, and occasionally from dumpsters.  It's all vegan, mostly organic, and usually delicious as there are people who know how to make food taste good and this knowledge spreads around.  Helping with the cooking is a great way to learn how to cook.  All the food pick-ups are done using bicycles and trailers.  Most people show up to the gatherings by bicycle.  People bring their own dish and spoon, so no paper or plastic is wasted.  It's all voluntary, no money is used.  Everyone who helps out gets to learn how to do anything from hauling to cooking to serving to cleaning.

Food Not Bombs helps everyone to participate in avoiding or boycotting many harmful  or wasteful activities, and replace them with fun -- we get to
- ride bicycles instead of cars
- eat local/organic/unprocessed food, and not pay for the pollution and waste of shipping/chemicals/packaging
- eat plants and not pay for the horrors of animal agriculture
- use one big shared kitchen and not waste resources using lots of kitchens to cook the same amount of food
- share knowledge and skills so everyone learns how to make food good, and just how good it can be
- eat together in community rather than isolated in separate homes
- do the "work" of preparing and cleaning together rather than alone, because washing dishes and cooking is way more fun with friends
- invite and welcome anyone and everyone to join us, since we're in public and the food is free

In a more beautiful world, I imagine most people eating most of their dinners this way: all-voluntary, free, and in community.  Food Not Bombs gets to show us how beautiful this can be right now.

Cooking food

Hauling food to the serving

Eating food


More Food 

Food in large quantities can fit on a bike trailer

(photos from Daniela and the Food Not Bombs PDX page)

By the way, this also goes on in San Francisco and the East Bay -- I've been with the SF group for the last year.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The purpose of every gathering

I'm contemplating, as I often do, what to do next with my life.  Right now that means deciding whether to continue working at my job.

Most of you are probably well aware of the "ecological crisis".  I find it good to be reminded of these things and just sit with them for a bit, because I don't always have to see them in person and it's possible to forget.

We've poisoned the air and groundwater and the ocean water of most of the earth through developing and using toxic chemicals and industrial processes.  Since we're rich in the US, most of this has been moved away from here and is now done in South America, Asia, and Africa, where most of the people are oppressed and in poverty, and have even less power to stop it.  This makes it a little harder to see from here.

In vast numbers around the world, people who once grew their own food have been driven off the land, or killed, or moved into cities and into debt to become consumers.  While I might not be the one with the gun driving them out, when I pay for ordinary things in America I pay the companies that pay the guys with the guns.

Most of these things have accelerated in the last 20 years as technology has allowed us to multiply our efforts.  Forest is being destroyed faster than ever right now.  Fertile land is turning to desert faster than ever.  The oceans are being killed off and polluted faster than ever.  We're dumping more trash than ever.  We're mining and extracting more finite resources than ever.  There are more factory farms packed with animals in pain.  There are more human refugees than ever.

But aren't we right around the corner from having new technology that will let us solve all of this?

Your guess may be as good as mine.  I think we already have the "technology" needed to live in a sustainable and much, much more beautiful way on the earth, even with seven billion people.  Trees and plants, for example, are incredible sustainable solar-powered air-cleaners and soil-restorers and carbon-sequesterers, plus providing food and habitat for us and all the other creatures.  But our current trajectory is toward more industrial technology that is used to make a profit.  And to make a profit, on some level, means taking nature (life) and converting it into resources and products that can be sold, accelerating this destruction.  Even "green" technology, like solar panels and wind turbines, require horrible pollution to create -- even if they are better than digging coal for the same amount of energy.  And of course, most or all of these green technologies are also focused on profit before anything else.

How does your job contribute to the problem?

To take the most obvious angle on it -- we make most of our profits through advertising, which is a crucial part of the industrial/consumerist system that provides the financial incentive for most of this destruction and horror.  So my job is to help this system run more efficiently.  Plus a good one third of the money I make goes to taxes, half of which go to war.

I could use the remaining money I get to try to do something good.  This was my noble intention until recently -- "earning to give".  But now I see that my earning the money is contributing to the destruction that I would then try to undo by using the money I earned.  It doesn't make sense.  

What would you do instead?

I don't know exactly.  But just as a strawman, if I stop working a regular job, buy almost nothing except [local, organic, unprocessed] food, and just go around helping with Food Not Bombs or whatever else?  I think I'll find other interesting things to do, in fact I have a lot of ideas and plans floating around.  But as a baseline, I could do this, and the amount of earth that is destroyed on my behalf each year will drop tremendously -- as I suspect it has this summer.

How could you give up work that you enjoy, a team of coworkers that are incredibly fun to work with and extremely talented, a career that is respected by most people, and a comfortable life where all your physical and financial needs are taken care of?  

:|  It's not the easiest thing.  But I do enjoy other things, there are awesome people outside Google, there are some people who would understand leaving, and a comfortable life isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Sunshine and birdsong and dirt and grass and the smell of rain and the taste of wild berries are also there outside the comfortable life.  

What are you really thinking about?

I don't spend most of my time thinking about technology and destruction and all that.  I love the trees themselves, and the birds, and the people, and the poetry, and the music and mountains and rivers and all the rest.  Most of this summer I've been spending my time up close with what I love.  I love this line from Rumi:
"The purpose of every gathering is discovered: to recognize beauty and to love what's beautiful."
This is what we really want to "do", isn't it?  This is why we go to the mountains.  This is why we spend time with those we love.  This is why we watch [videos of] cute animals.  This is why we gather to cook food and make music and watch eclipses.  I can give my attention more toward what is beautiful.  And I may help others around me to do the same.  And then we won't need as much of the stuff that is destructive.  The real juice is in what we gain, not what we avoid.  Life can be much richer than most of us are used to.  I've tasted this.

It'll still be complicated and difficult.  It's not like leaving work automatically flips life from dry to rich.  I had many rich moments while employed, mostly in my free time, mostly out in nature or with people.  And I've had my dry moments this summer, if fewer.  I'll still wrestle with my conditioning and culture which tells me that success, work-ethic, accomplishment, reputation, and so on, are most important.  I must be true to the deepest call I can feel.

There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.  May this be one.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Food Not Bombs at Kenilworth park.  

Figs popping

A picturesque Food Not Bombs meal

Abundance of blackberries in Portland

Hey now, I don't think them cashews are local...

One of many berry harvests

 Twelve pints of blackberry jam!

 One week was super hot -- up to 106° so I tried drying plum slices in the sun.  It worked, but don't try to dry fruit on cardboard as it glues itself to the cardboard.  

Fig picker

In the woods

In August I did a little solo bike/backpacking trip, to spend a week in the woods and see the eclipse.  Oh my God.  It was the most beautiful time.  Words can't say how I felt, and I think "beautiful" is the best available word to point to.  Here are some photos.

Getting rained on along the Clackamas river.

Along the ride into the Cascades.  I took my time getting there, spending this second night on a mountain along the river, and getting to Bagby hot spring in time for the third night.  There I hung out with a group of ten people who had just come from running a kitchen at a camp somewhere, and gave me a bunch of their leftover food, which allowed me to stay in the mountains a full ten days after that without getting hungry.  After Bagby I hiked off-trail to get over to Bull of the Woods without having to do a 20 mile loop or whatever it was on trail.  This was awesome at first, though tiring, but then I hit this super dense rhododendron thicket, and took about four hours to go a tenth of a mile through it, as I kept getting stuck.  But it was passable!  Definitely more passable than a blackberry thicket.

I camped on top of Bull Of The Woods for four nights, and then two more on Big Slide.  Pictures do not do any sort of justice to the 12 sunsets and sunrises on top of the mountains.  Such beauty.  Also saw a lot of meteors, one of which fell slowly at sunset and flared up before going out.  And birds -- there were hawks, one of which landed for a while in a tree just twenty feet from my head.  Hummingbirds, one of which flew straight into my face -- I dodged instinctually, I don't know if it thought I was a flower or what.  Blue birds, and some red birds, and a bunch of other kinds.

Looking at Big Slide from Bull

Morning fog rolling in and melting away.  Mt Jefferson in the middle, Olallie Butte on the left, and Three-fingered Jack on the right.
After three days alone on the mountain, some people showed up and took my picture.

During the day when it got hot up on the mountain tops, I would go down to one of the lakes to swim and get water.  This is the way down to Lake Lenore -- the slope was covered in beautiful fireweed -- apparently so named because it's the first thing to cover the ground after a fire.

Lenore was incredibly peaceful with no one else around, so I spent all afternoon there picking huckleberries and sitting with my feet in the water.  There were these brown salamanders (actually "Rough Skinned Newts" I think) in the water all around the shore.  Three of them came over and crawled on my feet, one of them kept sticking his face in the cracks between my toes, probably eating the grime or salt or something.  One of them came by all agitated, trying to shake this tiny green worm off his (or her, I dunno) back.  He rolled over and over, scraped his back against rocks and my leg, and tried to reach it with his own short arm/leg, but could not.  I don't know how that ended as he eventually moved away, still trying to get the little guy off.

Huckleberries!  The entire wilderness was full of huckleberry plants, though most of them had very little fruit, supposedly it wasn't the best year for them.

Up on an unnamed peak as the eclipse gets darker.  A lot of people showed up on the mountains the weekend before the eclipse, so I had company.  You probably saw the eclipse or already talked to people who did, and heard about the eerie feeling of the sun dimming for an hour, and the birds starting to chirp.  One beautiful thing here was how the snow-capped peaks to the north were still glowing in the sun while we were in the shadow.  

When I was up there during one of the sunsets, some people came up, and one said something about how amazing it was, it looked like heaven.  Said the other: "welcome to the world".  I liked that saying and think I'll use it again if I remember.

After the eclipse I hiked back to Bagby hot springs where I had stashed my bike.  Bushwhacking the last mile was much easier than the first time, as I went a different route along the creek, and didn't hit the dense rhododendron thicket.  Just a lot of clambering over and under big fallen trees.

The creek was amazingly beautiful.  Close to this creek the trees had never been logged, so they were huge, and the ground was covered with a deep layer of decaying wood covered in moss.  Very soft and quiet.  I was very grateful that there were very few mosquitoes and no poison oak.  It was a very hospitable place.

The ride home was beautiful too, it rained a bit and the sky was gorgeous.  When I first encountered a busy intersection, and was crowded by huge noisy vehicles with faceless (well, face-obscured) drivers all in a hurry, my heart was sad.  It doesn't need to be this way.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What is up with me

Hi friends,

I wanted to give an update.  I think I've found my calling: picking fruit!  :p

What follows is some of what I've been doing and thinking.

I stayed with friends in Portland the first week I was up here, and then four of us left on a bicycle trip to the rainbow gathering out in eastern oregon.  That was an amazing experience -- to be among 10,000 people in a remote forest, 2-3 miles from cars, for a week.  It was very inspiring to see what was possible when people came together from a place of love and generosity.  Not exactly a model of a sustainable community as we were in the forest and bringing food in from elsewhere -- it was more a festival or celebration.

I stayed at the gathering about two weeks, partly due to my friends and I being sick some of the time.  It was a grand place to be sick though -- camped on a beautiful mountain meadow with a view of the sky, surrounded by chipmunks and birds and squirrels and creeping things.  

After the gathering my friend Tim and I bicycled back across the desert and the Cascades to Eugene, and after a few days there I finished riding back to Portland alone, and stayed with my brother for about a week, picking blackberries and making jam.  I've picked so much wild/public fruit, which is a great joy for me.

I do struggle with feelings of urgency about what I "should" be doing.  I mean, this is the first time in 4 years I've had more than a week of free time -- I should be traveling the world, or be living in some intentional community doing regenerative agriculture, or spending weeks backpacking in the mountains.  If I'm not "working", I should be accomplishing something at least, otherwise I'm being a lazy bum.  :p  

Maybe I have accomplished something, to take that perspective -- I've spent 6 weeks sleeping outside, using very little money (about $200 so far, almost all on food), and am still healthy and enjoying it.  I've done a 650-mile bike ride and helped feed a lot of people and learned a lot about plants and fruit and less harmful ways of living from the people I've been with.

But part of me also knows this whole measuring of what I've accomplished isn't the most healthy either.  So when I stop and ponder it, I resolve to return to the present and be kind to the people (or plants/animals) I'm with and enjoy the rest of the day.  I can remember that I'm OK.  I imagine it'll take time, maybe a long time, of practicing this for the conditioning around accomplishment and success and work ethic to wear off.

In terms of my thinking -- this time has strengthened my perspective that much of the work and nearly all of the consumption in America is very harmful to ourselves, others, and the earth.  Just the impact of my life so far on the planet, in terms of acres of forest habitat destroyed, people oppressed, plastic and chemicals dumped in the rivers and oceans, animals killed, violence paid for, etc, would be disturbing to count.  I won't be stuck in guilt over that -- but it makes it easier to see that what I'm doing now is actually really helpful, even if it looks simple or lazy on the surface.

I don't mean people are bad for having jobs -- my point is not to judge like that.  We are, every one of us, doing our best in the situations we're placed in.  But there may be others in similar situations to mine, and I'm glad to be an encouragement to them.  Having no debt and no dependents, nothing but comfort and reputation and the allure of "success" to keep me in a career, it is easier to contemplate letting it go.

So I feel pretty confident that I won't be able to stay at my job for much longer.  It'll be a hard to let go of, but maybe not that hard.  Especially when I remember all of the good poems.  When I remember that life is short, and instead of spending my days in an office overusing my brain for the sake of making consumerism more efficient (this is a crude and biased caricature of what my job is about), I could be giving my attention to people and trees and the rest, loving them up close.  I don't want to let the ends justify the means in whatever I do. And our system that my job is part of may be even more short-lived than me.  For the sake of beauty, I hope so.  It might not end soon -- we may plunge further and further into dystopia for a long time yet.  Either way, I want to be part of the colorful alternative culture that will not give up making the best of it.

In Portland there's a large loose-knit community really interested in living a more joyful and less harmful lifestyle to varying degrees, through some combination of boycotting cars, airplanes, animal agriculture, plastics, non-local products, etc etc, and instead spending time together and learning to meet our needs in other healthier ways.  I think it's easier to live here in the summer on a bicycle with little money, compared to most places.  There's Food Not Bombs three times a week, all the free fruit one could want, and good places to camp.  The winter would be different I'm sure.

I also see that while this may be a less harmful and more joyful way for *me* to live, in my present circumstances, it's definitely not a complete model for everyone.  I seem to have a lot of company in envisioning a world where we all can live healthy lives in community, eating real local food and not oppressing or exploiting each other or the earth.  And I'm encouraged to see so many people interested in permaculture, natural building, healthier ways of interacting in community, shared leadership, holistic health, etc.  Altogether, these "technologies" and the people using them can demonstrate the healthy world community that could be.  There won't and cannot be a single individual model of it, but all of us can take more creative steps in that direction.

I just left Portland yesterday to ride to the mountains (north of Mt Jefferson) to spend a week alone in the forest, and see the eclipse if I don't lose track of which day it is.  I'm writing this at the Estacada library, probably my last stop with power+wifi.  After the eclipse, I'll likely head back down to the bay area.  Last night and this morning I got to experience a lot of rain for the first time up here, and am still somewhat damp.  It is good to be alive.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

On the road

Just some photos from the bike ride, Portland -> Rainbow Gathering -> Eugene -> Portland.

The whole route

 Some of our bikes in Portland right before leaving

 A beautiful field of purple flowers on our way to Mt Hood

 Our breakfast spot on the second day

 Eating salmonberries!

 Beautiful country

 Approaching the pass around Mt Hood

Dusk near Mt Hood

Past Mt Hood, riding through the Warm Springs reservation.  We had a wonderful tailwind here.

 Looking south toward Mt Jefferson and Sisters, from Rt. 26 in the Warm Springs reservation.  When we got to the town of Warm Springs, some people were very kind and welcomed us to camp in their school park right in the middle of town, which we did.

 Climbing out of the Deschutes river valley where Warm Springs is

 We stopped at the Organic Earthly Delights farmstand just outside Madras and had a feast of mostly very-local produce.  That apple is not local!

Rolling out of Madras

 Coming down into Prineville it was very cool and mostly downhill

 Beautiful scenery on the approach to Prineville

Next day, two of us split off to continue riding while the others hitched to the gathering.

Climbing up out of Prineville we got our last view of the cascades

 We stopped to pick currants many times, and ate at least three pounds of them.

 We rode right past a couple small rattlesnakes in the road, who rattled at us.  I wasn't in front so it wasn't my fault!  There were many roadkill rattlesnakes along this stretch.

 One of the many beautiful sunsets

A lovely camping spot on soft dirt right by the road.  The guard rail was making these crazy noises probably due to the change in temperature once it got dark, and at first we thought it was a bunch of animals somewhere in the distance, it was pretty funny.

 Rolling out the next morning.  Sadly almost all the land along the road for this 100+ miles was barbed-wired off as cow pasture, and there were a lot of cows, so we were afraid to drink the creek water even through a filter.

 We saw a lot of cool old houses and contemplated how we might settle down and eke out a living in them.

 Fresh orange, red, and black currants from the roadside, and cherries we'd picked in Prineville.  The cherry tree is one block west of Good Bikes bike shop, on the main street.  We picked a lot of cherries and tried to give them away to people in the park, but everyone refused.  Happily, we filled our water at a starbucks on the way out of town and someone working there was glad to take them.

An attempt at shade for a siesta.  The day after we left Prineville was the hottest, and had the longest stretch without water of 40 miles.  Happily, two people stopped to see if we needed anything, and gave us water.  This siesta idea may have been good, but it was still too hot for me to sleep, so I basically sat or lay in the heat for four hours waiting for things to cool down.

 Weather!  Sometimes there was a cloud shadow on the road up ahead and we'd try to race toward it to get shade, but then it would move :p
 The final climb into the mountains of the Malheur national forest

 Rolling in to the rainbow gathering on NF-24

We went all the way to the back of the gathering up a hill, and camped on the most beautiful open hillside with tall purple flowers everywhere, and a gorgeous view of the sky.  This was the last photo before turning off my phone.  I was camped up here for about two weeks, waking up laying in the grass surrounded by chipmunks and dragonflies and all other creeping things.  By the time we left, the purple flowers had faded and orange and yellow ones were starting to bloom.

*     *     *

Two weeks later we rode back...

 The evening we left the gathering, we were greeted by a beautiful and refreshing storm at sunset, with a double rainbow, light rain, and lots of big lightning bolts.

 We stopped to take it in, and also watch the semi-wild horses running around, and eat currants which were now ripe at higher elevations.

 Camped for our third night just outside Prineville

 Riding toward Sisters

 At a farm stand in Sisters we bought and rescued various fruits and vegetables.  We ate most of this in one sitting.

 Going up the east side of the Cascades on 242.  There was almost no traffic.  A forest service guy said it is completely packed on weekends, but we were there tuesday and wednesday.

At Windy Point it looked like Mordor with piles of igneous rock everywhere

Hammocked just up the hill from Windy Point.  One guy who stopped there had his car make a loud beep and told his companion he thought there was "a bum" camped up there, whom he wanted to scare off.

 Mordor by day

 A beautiful lake on the way down the west side of the cascades.  At lakes, I like to make a raft and float out on it.  There were lots of dragonflies by the shore, who would fly way out on the lake and sit on this tall grass that was growing out there.

Another lake we hiked to

The Willamette river in Eugene

 Delivering Food Not Bombs in Eugene

We parted ways in Eugene, and I rode back up to Portland alone.  Now blackberries were in season, and I ate a ton of them every day.  Also shared a gallon of berries with people in the park in Corvallis.

 Soaked oats and blackberries make a delicious meal.  Yes I ate all those blackberries at one breakfast.  They're probably good for you.

Last sunrise on the road.