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.