Thoughtfulness and Beauty: Living Sustainably

Dear Sunaina,

I’m back on the mountain, with the Jeep in mostly working order. I not-so-jokingly told some friends that, “friends don’t let friends buy Jeeps”, and this thing isn’t even mine and it’s costing me a fortune! Another friend replied that Jeep means “Just Empty Every Pocket”, and unfortunately I have to agree. Jeep, if you read this, send me one that will change my tune…right now y’all are 0 for 3! No offense, Jeepers!

Let’s move on to something that does work well, sustainability! How does one begin to approach sustainable living? It all starts with being thoughtful. Unless one begins to generate a thoughtful mindset they are likely to have great difficulty in living more sustainably. We’ve got to think about the things we use, where they came from, what happens when we’re done with them, how can we get more out of them, and etc. Once that’s a part of the mindset then we are ready to get on with the physical aspects of creating a more conducive atmosphere.

The most immediate and basic needs for people are water, shelter, and food. There is a person living up the mountain from me that has been here for about 35 years. He started off living in a tree on a platform with no walls, and only sunshades that blocked sun part of the day, he had clean water from a stone cistern that he built and filled himself, and some food that he grew (he also purchased non-perishable food). Later he lived in a tent, then a tepee, and in the last 20 years or so he built himself a beautiful stone and wood cabin that is one room. This entire time his basic needs have been met, and he has done quite well. He’s a published author, is the founder of a habitat restoration foundation, has a phone, solar panels, even “high speed” satellite internet. No one has to live like he does to live sustainably, he chose to live that way himself, but it’s just an example of how little people need in order to thrive with the benefits of the modern day.

Most people that will read this live in houses that are on the grid, as do I when I’m not doing this kind of thing, so lets mentally move from a mountain in Hawaii to a little house on the prairie in Texas. Texas is big and diverse, but most of it is pretty dry, the soil is OK, and it gets weather of all kinds, so it’s a good place to start. Imagine with me, if you will, a family of 3 with a small 2 bedroom home with a garage and a small-but-not-tiny fenced yard. It’s nothing fancy by western standards, but is humble and attached to the grid. Everyone’s needs are met, but the home is only shelter and produces nothing by virtue of its construction. With that image in mind, let’s create a more sustainable urban home.

If one were to put gutters on the home that ran into an elevated cistern that is no higher than the roof, which overflowed into a pool of some kind, and there are above ground pools that are 10′ wide and 30″ deep for less than $100 at your local big box store, with all equipment included, so it’s not expensive, one could have a source to water their gardens, as well as the ability to raise fish like Tilapia that are fed duckweed and water hyacinth, free from your local pond. The pool could be surrounded in straw bales where one could garden with

This may be the only Glass Gem corn growing on Maui, a rare heirloom, and it will soon be in the garden.

This may be the only Glass Gem corn growing on Maui, a rare heirloom, and it will soon be in the garden.

potted plants or in the bales directly. The water used for the fish would be very nutritious for the plants, full of natural fertilizer. Lets imagine that small yard, and all along the fence line there is food growing. There are beans, peas, tomatoes, corn, sunflowers, peppers, edible flowers, whatever it is that one may like that can grow in that environment, taking over that bare metal fence, giving it life. There’s a garden in the front yard too, producing whatever plants are valued by the homeowners. One could compost their food waste and plant debris, creating extremely healthy and beneficial soil to add to the garden, generating a cycle of fertility. Ultimately this improves the long term condition of the land itself, not just the garden in place at the time. Depending on how open a person is to various diets, there are also a variety of small animals and insects that could be raised for food or to feed the fish and/or chickens. What we imagined above could supply much, and with experienced hands most, of the family’s needs for water and food, with the shelter provided already. It saves money, in the long run it saves time, and in the right extreme it could save lives.

The major investment is the effort it take to implement these things, both intellectually and physically, because the financial costs are relatively low and this goes double for those who are more keen on resourcefulness than aesthetics. The above is just a small taste of the potential that exists. These projects, and more, can be done in an absolutely beautiful manner, and as creatively as one wants. A person could make a virtual Rube Goldberg with the right ideas, skills, and resources, if they wanted, or they could go the route of Occam’s Razor and keep it simple. I can tell you from personal experience that eating food that you grow and harvest is special, the appreciation is sincere and much deeper than for the things one buys at a store. The principle is more valuable than the price.

Aloha,

Colin

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