Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not more work--just different

So,what's the difference between living with nature as opposed to living apart from nature? I remember when we left Wrangell and I was so happy that we didn't have to heat with wood anymore. I was moving to the city! I was leaving part of my life behind: wood gathering, cutting, carrying, and stacking, not to mention starting fires and keeping it burning. We would go out the logging road, search for dead, standing trees, cut them down, cut them up and take them home. The smell of that red or yellow cedar from the deep woods of the Tongass National Forest still brings a feeling of warmth and goodness into my bones. But as much as I enjoyed doing it while we were there, I was ready to do other things with my free time---things that the big city of Fairbanks could offer, like go to a movie theater!

It wasn't very long after living in the big city and enjoying not hauling wood through the living area to the wood stove, that we started heading to the cabin as often as we could. Guess what we did there? Yup. We walked through the woods looking for dead trees and planning to cut them in the spring so we could haul them with sleds over to the cabin. We found a nice rhythm to life, living in the city and then retreating to the woods for respite.

So when we moved to Eagle River, to a house that integrates nature into the house itself, it felt good. We have wood heat again and we have to spend time heating with wood. Many people are doing that now that the price of oil is going up. I feel relaxed and at home with wood heat. It reminds me of the cabin.

So how about the rest of it? The comment I get the most often on my new house is about the amount of work it takes to live there. That's been really hard to explain. People who have always lived outside of nature find it inconceivable to live in the middle of nature in this house. This is an attempt to compare living here with how someone else in a similar house in the city would live.

So what exactly does my life in this living house entail? I think it really isn't any different than people who have a dog and and a cat and a fish tank. Since I don't have a dog, I come home and check on my fish. I check my plants to see if they need water. I pull some weeds here and there. I think it's about the same amount of time it would take for a dog owner to take the dog outside, throw the ball a few times, and pet him some. I have added benefits in that I don't have to scoop poop, or go to the vet. While pet owners are doing those mundane things, I'm maybe testing the water or dipping extra duckweed out of the pond or clipping plants that get out of control. While dog owners are going for a long walk with their dog, I'm downstairs making sure the bacteria isn't clogging the air valves and dying. The bacteria that eats our soap and toenails and whatever else goes down the drain needs air to survive, so that's an important task. Sometimes when I've ignored it, there is a smell I can smell-----not much different than if a dog owner forgot to let the dog outside!

So instead of having a cat, I have worms. Yes, I have to save food scraps each day to feed the worms, but I only have to feed them once a week and I don't have to pet them or vacuum cat hairs or change the kitty litter every other day. Instead, I dig through the worms and collect the dirt about every 6-8 weeks. I think the time I spend on my worms equals out to the time people spend on cats--easily. True, I don't have a cat to snuggle with, but I'm allergic to cats, so it doesn't matter.

About once a month I have to mix moss with water. It's not a difficult task. I have a bale of moss in the basement and I simply mix it up with water so that it doesn't fly away into the vents. Then I take a container of moss to each bathroom. Instead of flushing, we throw a scoop of moss in the toilet. It's a task that takes about the same amount of time if would to clean a small fish tank. So instead of cleaning muck out of a tank, I'm mixing muck to put in the tank!

I do have a large garden. But that's not unusual. Other people have gardens. It's a hobby, like anything else. The only thing that I have that is above and beyond is 31 steps to the front door. We have to carry everything up the stairs. I chalk that up to exercise. Exercise is good for you, right?

There is one task that I have not covered, but only one. That is, every six months, my husband and I have to empty the poop barrel. That sounds pretty disgusting and indeed it can be. But it only takes 30 minutes or so. The thing is it's not poop anymore. It's very moist vermiculture--a nice word for worm poop. The bad part is the smell. The other bad part is the worm tea. After 18 months of eating waste, there is a huge amount of excess liquid accumulated in the bottom of the barrel and in the drainage bucket under the barrel. It should be the best fertilizer in the world. But just knowing that it came from the poop barrel makes me cringe. I throw it into the woods. My green friends tell me I'm throwing money right down the mountainside. Maybe one day I'll test it to make sure it's not contagious. Then I'll be able to sell it. :-)

So how much time does my house take? Not much.

Wait. I forgot cleaning the air vents and filters. Every two months, I have to clean the air filters. That entails holding them under water and rinsing them out, drying them and then putting them back on and making sure nothing is blocking the vent intakes. How much time is that? What would that be comparable to?

So I live in a house with alternative types of pets. I have fish instead of a dog. I have worms instead of a cat and I have bacteria instead of a tank full of guppies. I heat with wood. If you look at it that way, it's just a normal house with abnormal pets and the time all comes out even in the wash. And then the wash water feeds my bacteria. You get the picture.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Blog Action Day"

October 14, 2009

I grew up in Alaska and have lived here most of my life. It's so hard to watch what's happening here on the forefront of climate change. I have many stories, so I'll share a few here on this blog action day.

Last year we were on the north coast of Alaska in Kaktovik, near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There were polar bears everywhere. They knew it was time for whaling when they could get the scraps. My good friend and Inupiat Elder explained that they were looking too skinny. There was one with a cub and she felt so sorry for her, we went back to her house and got some old walrus meat. We took it outside of the village to the last place we saw her and put it in the grass for her to find. We didn't see her, but it was gone the next day. They also explained that it used to be common for the polar bears to have 2 cubs, now 2 cubs are rare. Since there were so many polar bears, I asked why they weren't hunting them. I was surprised at the answer: the scientists are studying them so much, they are filled with too many chemicals. Sad all the way around.

My husband's parents built a cabin on a remote lake long before land claims were settled in Alaska, so it's been there a while. Each year the lakewater inches a little closer to the cabin. A couple summers ago we boated over to the village to ask what they thought. They had 2 different suggestions for the flooding. The glaciers that feed the river are melting so fast, more and more glacial silt is blocking the exit to the lake. The other issue is that since the permafrost is melting, the lake is getting deeper and deeper. When 20 years ago there were islands in the lake, now they are gone. The trees stand as bare pole reminders of a long gone forest, now flooded.

As a teen I used to deliver newspapers in Fairbanks. One night it was very, very cold. I got dressed with layers and layers and just as I reached for the door knob, the radio announced that it was too cold for the papers to be delivered that night. I groaned. I was already dressed. So, I donned my paper bag and started out on my 3 mile route. About 1/2 way through, an elderly lady invited me in to warm up. She handed me a $10 tip when I handed her the newspaper. I couldn't believe it. When I started refusing the money, she protested. She said, "I just looked at my thermometer and it's 72 below zero. You shouldn't be out in weather like this." I told her I had already been dressed in all my coats and snow pants. She smiled and told me to be careful on the rest of my route. I don't remember it ever getting to -72 again, but it was often below -40 every winter for weeks at a time. The other thing I remember is that daylight didn't really make a difference in the temperature. It was a steady cold. As I grew older and had my own children, it was rare that it stayed below -40 for more than a week. And during the daylight, the temperature now warms significantly. Experts have said you can notice global warming by the difference in the range of temperatures these days, as well as the warmer weather. I'm noticing.

Each morning when I get up and look out the window, I see the remnants of a glacier, the Eagle Glacier. It's all but gone. We visited three other glaciers up close and personal this year, paying tribute to their deaths, feeling helpless and sad as we bare witness.

This is the time. There is a ground swell of interest of all of us taking notice. Leaders around the world MUST act now to cut CO2 emissions. Sometimes "we the people" can't act in a timely manner. We need leaders to make a change happen fast. I hope that will be in Copenhagen in December. The time is now.