Friday, August 09, 2013

Accepting Complexity

A few days ago we had a visit from the Johavah’s Witnesses. We glanced out the window and didn’t recognize the van. When I saw them get out I guessed pretty quickly who they were and excitedly put on my shoes. By the time I got out to the car they were already in conversation with Kaleesha. She didn’t see me approach from behind. She was being very polite, letting them talk for quite an extended period. I wasn’t sure if she was going to quietly listen and let them leave or confront them. I piped up from behind when they produced an article titled “Should you trust religion?”

“Oh, no, we’re atheists.” I wasn’t interested in anything but being blunt and to the point. I’m happy to engage with them but it will be on my terms if they’ve come to my house. So, I happily let that cat out of the bag. I won’t really bother recounting the conversation as they didn’t have much to offer. My basic suggestion was that we relied on and believed in science and that the Universe was plenty amazing without an imaginary god. But they did leave a few things and agreed to come back next week for more conversation.

So, what was it they left? Well, let me sum it up as useless. Not that I’d expect anything of use from them. One of the “publications” was about science: “The Origin of Life: Five Questions Worth Asking”. Essentially, it can easily be summed up as this: Life and the Universe are far too complex to be anything but the result of intelligent design. That’s it, just their assertion. We’re supposed to take their word. While they actually do a pretty commendable job of introducing some actual science, giving credit and acknowledgement (in a minimal way) to the progress made by various fields of science, they end each section with a sort of “God of the Gaps” argument. Essentially, they’ve taken some big steps backwards from progress made 60 years ago. At least according to this humble non-believer. During World War II German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
“…how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.”
Charles Alfred Coulson, in his 1955 book Science and Christian Belief wrote:
“There is no ‘God of the gaps’ to take over at those strategic places where science fails; and the reason is that gaps of this sort have the unpreventable habit of shrinking.”
The problem is that science continues the march onward, making fantastic progress across the many fields. From microbiology to astrophysics, the gaps in data, the gaps in knowledge, are being closed at an amazing rate. The writing on the wall. God is no longer needed and is being handed his hat. Thanks but no thanks, we can use the scientific method to explore and understand the Universe.

Some of them seem to think that the meager offerings of the Bible are sufficient but it is far from that. It is a religious document written over a thousand years ago that does not deal with a scientific exploration of the Universe. It explains nothing. Our visitors the other day seemed to think that they could point to a passage here and there to somehow prove the Bible’s accuracy. Nevermind the contradictions that exist, a passage here and there do little to explain the mysteries that the scientific method has been used with such efficacy to explain.
“The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.” – Carl Sagan
Of course science is just a method, a tool used by humans to learn. But we recognize that mistakes can be made and the method is design to confront the mistakes. Nothing in science is sacred or above challenge. New data can confirm our understanding or might be used to challenge it. That is the beauty, resiliance and utility of science and what makes it such a valuable tool.

Addendum: As planned, we were revisited by the JW folks and had a nice conversation. I expect it was pointless but who can predict. To put it simply I shared with them everything I’ve written here. Whether they will consider my thoughts and criticisms or not I do not know.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Bringing Permaculture to Make-It-Do

Hugelculture herb spiral in
construction. Leaves and wood used
as organic filler, topped with soil
and compost.

Let me start by saying that Permaculture is not a new concept for Kaleesha and she's been putting various elements of it into practice for several years. What is new though is having me around and my thoughts on how to go about things.

Probably the biggest change is going to be a change in goat management which is both a permaculture driven change as well as a very practical need. Essentially the goat fencing was never quite finished and with a bit of effort they were able to free-range which is not a good thing with a road nearby. Nor is it a good thing if one wants to grow berry and fruit trees and bushes or any kind of flower garden. If you dont already know, goats eat practically every kind of growing thing so growing a garden or food forest is difficult, probably impossible if goats have open access to growing areas.

Last week we finished the fencing and the goats are mostly contained. They will do their best to get past it and will find a few week points (already have!) so we'll have to get out and do a bit of troubleshooting. But as of now, it is a big improvement and they are behind the fencing most of the time which means we are now free begin landscaping areas around the house which had previously been left as grass or gravel.

After the goats the priority has been to improve the aesthetics of the north, driveway side of the house is poorly defined with two doors that confuse visitors about the actual entrance. The first door goes to the laundry room is more a utility entry but is usually the first door seen by visitors. The real entryway is not marked in anyway. That entire face of the house was used as storage with a heating unit, doors, windows and other items leaned against the wall. The rocks of the driveway were steadily migrating down into the gravel mulch that served as a yard. Most of this area is heavily shaded by the house and two large trees. The northeast side of the yard has a bit of grass and gets a good bit of sunlight.

Well rotted log from my hugelculture beds. The logs
and soil are full of fungi and micro organisms.

We started by getting all the items along the house moved to the shed. Once we cleared the space we wanted to bring some life and usefulness to the area. We built a hugelculture shade bed against the house and to the west side of the main entrance to the house. The bed has been planted with a mix of shade tolerant plants such as ferns, hostas and native columbine. A smaller bed on the other side of the door will also be built and planted with shade plants. The concrete pad in front of the door will also be getting some attention. Currently it gathers a good bit of small gravel which makes its way into the house. To help draw attention to this door as the primary entrance and to reduce the amount of gravel coming inside we are repurposing some concrete paver stones mixed with various stones found around the property which are being laid in as an extension of the pad forming a sort of patio.

Much of the focus thus far is working on moving extra plants over from my efforts at the lake. I've gotten some of the kitchen herbs and Missouri natives moved over with many more to go. My folks will be taking over my cabin and have no interest in gardening so I'm also bringing over soil from the two year old hugelculture bed. The logs are rotting up nicely and the resulting soil, previously enriched with manured straw from the chicken coop, is fantastic. Thus far the herb spiral and hugelculture beds around the mature trees in the yard have been planted with Oregano, Skullcap, Lavendar, Garlic Chives, and Purple Coneflowers.

This fall I'll move the serviceberry bushes, blackberries, and raspberries and possibly a few others. In the longterm I'd like to put the hill that the house is built on to use. It is a south-facing hill and an excellent opportunity for water harvesting with swales. Another longterm project is improving the goat forage. Currently they forage a diverse area with a fairly good mix of food but it could be improved. Yet another long term project that we'll get started in the spring of next year we will be several food forests. We'll obtain low-cost nut trees from the Missouri Department of Conservation as well as a few fruit trees from other sources.

This is a great site with fantastic potential and I look forward to becoming a part of it.

 

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Building a Partnership With Kaleesha

Living in the cabin these past 5 years I’ve gotten very good at being single and alone most of the time. I’ve not had a serious long term relationship since 2001. But I’m good at being a partner, I enjoy it greatly and find the cooperative process a very rewarding one. Connecting with someone of like mind with whom we can work and learn and share, well, isn’t that what we all look for in a relationship? The core of such a partnership, in my view, is communication.

So, here I am building a new relationship with Kaleesha. Really, we’re just getting started. We’ve been friends since January but, as I mentioned recently, that friendship took on a new direction in recent months. What I’ve found in Kaleesha is a beautiful human being that has a relentless desire to explore life in the Universe and to communicate those explorations. Now, I should probably clarify what I mean by explore. As a homesteader with a variety of animals and seven kids, she is not skipping willy nilly across the globe. Her exploration is a bit closer to home.

As I explained previously I met Kaleesha when she and her family took an interest in astronomy. I did not share that she had, in the late summer of 2012, quit the Bible and Christianity. As she puts it, she “read herself right out of it”. That got my attention. A serious Christian of many years who reasoned her way right out of religion. A person not content with faith and courageous enough to confront a lifetime of self-deception was a person I wanted to know better.

Upon her initial departure from Christianity she considered herself a deist but soon began to question that as well. As of this writing she considers herself an agnostic with atheist leanings. As she says, “I’m fairly confident that in a couple of months I’ll consider myself an atheist”. She’s currently reading Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Gandhi’s autobiography which brings me to her habit of constant reading which I greatly appreciate and admire. I’ve always thought that reading is the base of intelligence… Or, rather, a primary tool required if one is to have any chance of intellectual development. A lifetime of reading exclusively romance novels is not likely to lead to much in the way of personal intellectual growth. Fortunately her reading materials are substantative.

By circumstance our friendship evolved via a mix of face-to-face conversation blended with many Facebook conversations and email exchanges. These direct communications were supplemented with our explorations of one another’s blogs. From the beginning ours was a process largely based on the sharing of our written words, our ideas about the world and our experiences in it. To put it simply, it was intellectual exchange rather than emotional exchange and I think it set the foundation for what we have been developing since. I consider her one of the more interesting people I’ve met in my time on the planet.

Kaleesha is the first writer with whom I’ve been involved romantically and it was immediately obvious that her being a writer added something of great value to our relationship. I’ve not known many writers in my life but those I have known seem to share a common trait of experiencing life more fully. A more developed vocabulary and ability to use language (oral or written) seem to correlate with a generally deeper appreciation of the Universe and a curiosity about its workings.

I have greatly enjoyed her fondness for reading aloud to the kids and often as we lay in bed she will share quotes from her current read which often leads to a bit of conversation. This is a woman who loves words and the expression of ideas. She loves to dig into the current subject of her curiosity, roll it over and examine it from a variety of angles and chew on her observations. When she gets around to writing about it (as she inevitably does if it is worth writing about) she is thoughtful and deliberate in her craft. In fact, this is yet another aspect of her which I greatly appreciate and admire: her willingness to take her time and do it right. Whether she is writing for her blog (or upcoming book), making a pizza, sewing or working with the kids, she is careful to take her time, to be deliberate and mindful of the task at hand.

Partnership with Kaleesha is both a comfort and a challenge. Comfort when it is needed, say at the end of a long day or even just a general sort of comfort that comes with having a close confidant. There is the comfort that comes with her bringing me a cup of coffee or her sweet smile from across the room or the sight of her confidently rolling out a loaf of bread that will soon be in the oven. There is the challenge she puts forth by just working so hard everyday. Gone are my days of lax activity living alone in the cabin. Not to say I didn’t get done what I needed to (usually), just that it was a very relaxed life with accountability only to myself. I could get away with my laid-back day-to-day efforts. Life with Kaleesha requires that I rise to the occasion, that I put forth greater effort. Whether it is time with the kids and giving them my thoughtful attention or some chore such as moving a goat fence, there is more to do here. Kaleesha has been the primary caregiver to her seven children and it’s not left her with much time to write or to engage in other projects. My intent is to take over some of these responsibilities and general household responsibilities so that she has more time to develop herself in other areas.

Of course there is the passion that comes with real partnership. Such passion manifests in many ways. It might be shared passions such as astronomy and gardening. While viewing the stars with friends like Russ and Mark is always a very enjoyable experience and my solitary time at the scope too is very rewarding, time shared with Kaleesha at the scope adds a new flavor to the experience. Sometimes we are focused on what we are viewing, sharing in the beauty of a globular cluster or nebula, other times the experience wanders to the holding of hands, conversation or warm embrace. Spending time in the garden together is equally beautiful and greatly enriched over time spent gardening alone. Occasionally all the passions come together and blur such as the night we started observing the stars and moon in the yard. We wandered into the garden as we searched around trees and clouds for a particular patch of sky. There we enjoyed an awareness of all the elements merging; of being in our garden, surrounded by growing things as we looked to the heavens. There is no better place to be.

This post would not be complete without some mention of our daily communications which start every morning in bed. There is nothing as sweet as starting a day with a gentle conversation in bed with the person one loves. We might jump into a conversation about the day’s plans or we might mull over an event from the previous day. Sometimes we start with a bit of silliness, sometimes it is a meaningful discussion. Regardless of the start, our day is marked by consistent communication with each other and with the kids. She is very skilled and deliberate in her management of the home and much of this manifests as a sort of conversational tone of respect which makes for a very pleasant environment.

This is a partnership I will deeply enjoy.