An interview with a friend who has moved to the woods, so to speak
1. When and how did you realize that you weren’t crazy, society was?
I think in my gut I always knew that society was insane. Even as a young child. In fact, I can recall various moments from the first twenty or so years of my life when either teachers or parents or whoever, whether inadvertently or not, fed me various pieces of social programming. But I always, always had a deep love for the outdoors. In my young teenage years I would walk all the forests and fields near my parents home, and I loved nothing more than those spaces that contained a piece of nature overtaking long abandoned remnant of industry; a rusted out boxcar deep in the trees, with vines growing up its side, or something like that. I think even at that time I was sure that at sometime in my life I’d witness the collapse of industrial civilization.
But more specifically, as an adult, my deprogramming came in fits and starts, as it does. I think the brain has safety catches, almost like the water containment chambers in the bowels of the Titanic. You can’t deprogram someone inculcated with the dominant culture all at once. The brain can’t handle it, I don’t think, physiologically. Over the years though I read a lot. Literature by Camus, Kafka, and in more recent years, Cormac McCarthy. My innate tendency to rebel and to be defiant was spurned on by what I read in literature, and then what I read politically, slowly but surely exposed the violent and rapacious fraud that is our society. By the time I was thirty I had read most of Derrick Jensen’s stuff, which brought me full circle. My love for the natural world and my urge to rebel finally had the social analysis to back it up and make the knowledge and inner fire I possessed useful.
2. How would you define freedom?
This is a question that actually deserves a well thought out response. Right now I guess I would say the word has a day to day, common usage, and then there is conceptual, penultimate “FREEDOM!” Day to day, I just define it as being able to do whatever I feel like and am capable of doing at any given moment. However, to truly understand freedom, people have to understand what exactly cages them. A lot of people feel free who are anything but. Especially in modern America, the word “freedom” is generally cast about as only the condition of a person’s autonomy relative to the state. And even this is mired in Orwellian “right thought.”
People often are unable or unwilling to see the social paradigms to which they are beholden, and without seeing these hindrances, they can’t analyze them and thus sense their bondage. Like cows on a massive field, where the fences are beyond sight. They can eat all day, they can breed, whatever, and maybe they feel free, but never realize that they are actually livestock working for the enrichment of someone else.
This is all a lot of meandering of thought. I guess ultimately I would say that freedom is the complete elimination of all human constructs, and a complete equivocation of all people. This is the zombie apocalypse fantasy. When the power goes out and all bets are off, the policemen isn’t a policemen any more, he’s just “Steve.” His fancy badge aint worth shit, and if he acts like a complete fuck, you can shoot him in the head. Beyond the zombie movie fantasy though, I would say freedom is not just equivocation between all people, but between people and all life. To stand equal with the trees and the wolves and the birds and the rivers.
3. Is “off the grid” a silly term? How close to it are you, and what is a healthy balance between, say, building a chicken coop and blogging about it?
Someone commented on us living off the grid the other day, saying they’d like to do it, and I felt like a phony. We have no electricity, so we are in fact, “off the grid.” We also have no plumbing. But we have a solar charger and an iPhone and we still have our cars. And we have our laptops, but we only use them at internet cafes.
When I think of “off the grid” I think of people in deep Alaska, Montana, or Maine. People whose nearest neighbors are miles away. Our nearest neighbors are very walkable. The nearest town (where I am now as I write this) is about a six mile drive.
I would like to think that in a year or two, we will rely on our cars and trips to town less. We have only been on our land for six weeks, so of course we still need to buy food from the grocery store. And of course, materials for structures, even manure for garden beds, requires that we hop in the truck and go get it. Once our primary infrastructure is in place though, I would like to only leave the land once or twice a week.
And yeah, we have a blog which is a really yuppie thing. Dani (my partner) is a photographer, and I am a rambler, so we put these things online so our friends and family can see that we’re not eating mud and sleeping on a rock. I guess I’m kind of an off the grid poser in this respect.
4. Guy McPherson thinks we have 17 years left on this planet. What should we be doing with our time and energy? (and/or, do you think he’s right?)
This question is great, because I have followed Guy for a while. He actually has posted several of my essays on his blog, including this gem, http://guymcpherson.com/2012/12/kill-the-economy/, and of late I have been in some deep discussions with friends concerning his near term extinction theory.
I’m not sure if he ever said seventeen years specifically, but I am aware that he believes massive extinction in the northern hemisphere will have occurred by sometime in the 2030s, and that the southern hemisphere will follow by maybe a decade.
I doubt it’s important whether or not I think he’s right. There is definitely a chance that he’s right, and I think that even if he’s wrong about a near total extinction of life, that we’re in for some really, really hellish times in the near future.
As to what I think we should be doing with our time, I guess I think we should be destroying that which is destroying the planet. I think we all need to join the resistance. The existing resistance needs to step it up–and to be fair, I think they agree. I think resistance takes many forms, but that the primary form needs to be decisive ecological warfare as outlined by Aric McBay in the Deep Green Resistance manual. I think homesteaders and permaculturists need to buttress these efforts by forming the foundations of tomorrow’s autonomous zones. Even parenting can be resistance if done right.
But the long and short of it is that the fossil fuel extraction industries need to be shut down. Unfortunately, a large portion of the people who agree with this conceptually are also in the liberalism trap, and they think this needs to be done within the existing political systems, and that they are also required by being anti-fossil fuel to be pro “alternative energy.”
If there is a chance, even a remote one, that life can be spared if we shut down the coal plants and the tar sands mines and the oil refineries, then we have to take that chance. The existing socio-economic structure does not have “shutting down” built into their control panel, and neither does the state. Police will be beating monkey wrenchers and saboteurs even as crop shortages are causing famine, and these cops will scream, “I’m sorry, I’m just doing my job! I actually agree with you!” And liberals will be apologizing for them. Despite being trapped in this bizzare, cartoon version of a Greek tragedy doing their take on the apocalypse, we have to struggle forth. Everything is on the line, and not just whether or not we live or die, but whether or not we’re a species that deserves to live or die. This is the time to prove whether what is in our hearts, our love and our courage, whether they are worth a damn at all.
5. What’s an average day for you look like?
I wake up around 7:00 and I go outside to start a fire. I heat up some water for coffee and I get some pancakes made. When breakfast is ready I wake up Dani and we eat together. Usually over breakfast I tell her how beautiful she is, how much I love her, and then we discuss what to do with the day.
Again, we have only been on our land for six weeks, so we are in massive infrastructure mode. Plus the season is a wasting, and we’re behind on planting. So we have spent a lot of time getting Poplar poles upright for our pole shed, (which will cover our trailer and provide a roof for rain catchment) constructing hugelkulture beds in our garden, putting up fencing, etc. There is always daily upkeep stuff, like chopping firewood, washing clothes, getting our dogs run out, etc.
We don’t take enough time for fun yet. Trying to have a functioning farm and a house built by this coming winter has us running pretty non stop. I did have a bunch of local Earth Firsters! over the other day to do a climb training, seeing as I have a lot of big beautiful trees and a stash of climbing gear. Hopefully some of them will run off and blockade pipeline construction or something like that soon, and then I can feel like my farm is also part of the resistance.
Dani and I usually eat dinner around six, then have some hot tea as the sun sets and we just stare out at the forest and listen to it. I watch the bats and call to the owls. We’re usually in bed by 9:30 and we read aloud to each other using our solar lights which charge up all day. When our eyes are falling shut, which doesn’t take too long, we kiss each other goodnight.
Dani is what makes the whole thing worth doing. This off the grid life, maybe my life in general. I try to remember every day to make time to just be in love. If Guy Mcpherson is right, I at least won’t die without having had great love which I gave everything to. I think Camus might agree that such love is a rebellion in itself, against the nihilism of the universe.