Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Important Books

Here are some books that were important in their influence in regards to our thinking about EntropyPawsed

Ishmael - Daniel Quinn Bantam Books, 1992

Overshoot – William R. Catton, Jr. University of Illinois Press, 1980

Introduction to Permaculture – Bill Mollison Tagari Publications, 1991

The Humanure Handbook – J.C. Jenkins Jenkins Publishing, 1994

Gardening When It Counts – Steve Solomon New Society Publishers, 2005

A Pattern Language – Christopher Alexander Oxford University Press, 1977

Animal, Vegetable Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Perennial, 2007

The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin - Idries Shah, Octagon Press, Ltd., 1983

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Symbiont or Parasite?

Last week, Bonnie posted a writing on this blog about health and dis-ease. She included the following,

Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary defines “health” as “physical and mental well-being; soundness; freedom from defect, pain or disease.” Although cited as “obscure,” in the same dictionary the first definition of dis-ease is “uneasiness; distress.”

I have seen much dis-ease over the years that, in my view, is directly related to dis-connection from a sense of place, from Mother Earth, from each other, and from our inner emotional and spiritual selves.

At the risk of misinterpretation, I conclude the Mother Earth connection Bonnie referred to was a symbiotic one; not a parasitic one. In hopes of furthering the conversation, I pose this question; is Homo sapiens sapiens symbiont or parasite to the Earth? Corollary to that, is symbiosis with Earth a necessary condition for human good health? Should we as individuals strive towards this condition?

The online Dictionary defines symbiosis is “the relation between two different species of organisms that are interdependent; each gains benefits from the other ” Again from, a parasite is an “organism that lives in or on a host (another animal or plant); the parasite obtains nourishment from the host without benefiting (the host and may injure or) kill.. the host ”.

To me, it does not seem much of a stretch to consider Earth a living super-organism, along the lines of the Gaia Hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock.

Is Earth injured? I believe the evidence to be overwhelming.

Let's start with extinction. At an accelerating rate over the past several hundred years, humans have in effect been converting diverse biomass to human biomass. The extant sixth great mass extinction on Earth coincides with increasing population of humans.

According to Wikipedia, some scientists estimate as many as one half of current species could become extinct by 2100 as human population approaches 9 billion. Except in time scale, is our population advance really fundamentally different from that of yeast in fermenting wine? Further increases in human population come at the increasing peril of extinction of more and more species, including ourselves, just as the yeast finally becomes extirpated when the grape juice becomes wine.

For “those who have eyes that can see” (Daniel Quinn) resilience is an important corollary of diversity. Given choice (which in reality may not exist among humans, see “USER ILLUSION” by Tor Norretranders), symbionts would choose to limit their numbers so as to maintain the Earth resilience of diversity. Parasites mindlessly continue to increase their numbers at the cost of diversity, further degrading landscapes and increasing environmental degradation, thereby creating conditions of increasing fragility for Earth.

We see this fragility all around us, evidenced most strikingly by the current global financial and economic meltdown. It is one that I maintain is the result of a 500+ year history of economic exploitation suddenly beginning to yield marginal returns that have gone negative. The exercise of analysis of lost vegetable and animal breeds is also enlightening in this regard, and downright frightening.


Pharmaceutical drugs given to people and to domestic animals including antibiotics, hormones, strong pain killers, tranquilizers, and chemotherapy chemicals given to cancer patients are being measured in surface water, in groundwater and in drinking water at the tap. Large quantities of drugs are excreted by humans and domestic animals, and are distributed into the environment by flushing toilets and by spreading manure and sewage sludge onto and into soil.

When I go to an Appalachian mountaintop on a clear day, no matter how clear, no matter which season of the year or time of day, I can always see the faint brownish haze. Astronauts began to notice this haze about ten years ago, everywhere on the horizon. Smog is now enveloping the Earth. On the highest ridges of the Appalachians, the skeletal remains of trees provides further evidence of the slow, insidious poisoning of our atmosphere.

Here is a fascinating website about the Chernobyl radiation zone, an 865 square mile ( about 2/3's the size of Rhode Island) zone where humans may not safely live for up to another 900 years due to a nuclear accident.

How about the mountaintop removal coal mining zone in West Virginia, my home state, Kentucky and Virginia that is larger than the Smoky Mountain National Park at 500,000 acres. See photos here.

However, from the coal industry's perspective, it is possible to be a “Friend of Coal.” The coal industry plods along greenwashing their planetary rape and counting on the businesses they support and the neighbors of workers for political cover. Even though the coal industry now employs relatively few people here in Appalachia, everyone knows someone who has a well paying job in the coal industry. And the “Friends of Coal” are making a constant public presence for themselves in the area where the rape continues apace.

It is possible to go on to book length and beyond about the examples of human parasitism on the Earth. If the Gaia Hypothesis is correct, then clearly homo sapiens sapiens is currently a parasite upon the Earth as witnessed by the above examples.

From a more uplifting perspective, there is an ever increasing number of examples of real human beings living in degraded landscapes and applying hard work and ingenuity to reestablishing healthy ecological assemblies through ingenious systems like Permaculture Based upon Dictionary definition above, these humans are living in symbiosis with the Earth; at least on a smaller, local scale. Remember, “think globally, act locally”?

In the end, this is really all any of us can do effectively. Follow the advice of Mahatma Ghandi who advised, “If you want to change the world, change yourself.” and “be the change we wish to see.” No matter whether this results from the exercise of choice, or some other unexplained factor, this is the change we hope to help further effect by our project, EntropyPawsed. We want to inspire others to learn to desire and become a symbiont of the their small place on the Earth.

I would like to add one word of caution against a dominant human trait; “self-deception”. There is little to no chance of fully establishing a symbiotic relationship with Earth while continuing to move about the planet like a typically entitled American. Why? Just too much energy expended, and all the collateral damage. Many of us, including Frank and Bonnie, still have a way to go in this regard. However, as Mualana Jalaludin Rumi said eight hundred years ago in what is now present day Afghanistan, “increase thy need, oh necessitous one”.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

EntropyPawsed on Health & Dis-ease

By Bonnie D. Gifford, M.D.

I am a physician, thoroughly trained in science and Western medicine. I am a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, board certified in Internal Medicine, with over 25 years of practice experience. The experience has been varied (and sometimes overlapping): 5 years caring for patients on an alcohol and drug dependency unit, 7 years of occupational medicine, 15 years in various urgent care and primary care settings. I am currently the medical director at a minimum security prison for youthful (18-25 year old) offenders who are participating in educational and vocational programs.

I think my career journey as been so peripatetic because I have been so dis-satisfied with the health care system in this country. It is a system based on a business model, focused on technology and drugs, a system that promotes patient powerlessness and provider greed.

Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary defines “health” as “physical and mental well-being; soundness; freedom from defect, pain or disease.” Although cited as “obscure,” in the same dictionary the first definition of dis-ease is “uneasiness; distress.”

I have seen much dis-ease over the years that, in my view, is directly related to dis-connection from a sense of place, from Mother Earth, from each other, and from our inner emotional and spiritual selves.

Most Americans are dis-connected from everything essential for survival. We have lost meaningful connections with the sources of our water, food, shelter, clothing, with our fellow humans in community, with those we love, with The Mystery of Life. No wonder we feel dis-eased!

M. Scott Peck, M.D. (, author of the best seller, “The Road Less Traveled,” describes psychological distress, including depression, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc.... as “a descent of grace”. The message of the distress is that something in our life is untenable, and we need to make significant changes.

However, most humans living in modern cultures are so dis-connected and so blinkered in world view that the grace and need are not perceived. Instead, either licit or illicit drugs/substances are sought to numb the dis-ease, and no real change is accomplished.

According to a 2004 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (, at that time almost half of Americans used at least one prescription drug (a 13% increase from 1988-1994), with one in six taking three or more (a 40% increase). Use of antidepressant medication tripled during the same period.

A 2007 Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration ( report said that “24.3 million Americans aged 18 or older experienced significant psychological distress” during that year and “16.5 million Americans suffered at least one major depressive episode during this period.”

In his book “Care of the Soul”, Thomas Moore interprets Robert Sardello's work as follows: “In Sardello's description of disease, our bodies reflect or participate in the world's body, so that if we harm that outer body, our own bodies will feel the effects. Essentially there is no distinction between the world's body and the human body.”

So if health is freedom from dis-ease and dis-ease is the result of dis-connection, how, and to what, do we re-connect so we can find health?

I think considering and answering the following questions could be therapeutic:

  1. From where does your drinking water come? A lake or reservoir? A river or deep well? Who or what is upstream? How is the water treated prior to entry into the delivery infrastructure? Where does it go after you use it?

  2. Where does your food originate? No, I don't mean what grocery store. Where and under what conditions was that apple or cow grown or raised? You don't care? Now, there's an example of dis-connection from your body.

  3. Of what is your residence built? Did components come from old growth forests? Do any of the building materials off-gas?

  4. Are your clothes made of natural materials (cotton, wool, linen) or synthetics? Where were the garments sewn, and were the workers paid a living wage?

  5. Who do you love? Where are they now? How do you connect with them?

  6. In what “community” do you participate? How does your personal ethic direct your interactions with that community?

  7. What happens after death? How does your view of this effect the way you live?

In future blog entries and videos we will explore each of these questions and share our perspectives.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Sprouting is a great way to produce some of your own food. If you have access to some clean jars, lids with screens, clean water, and appropriate seeds, you can raise your own sprouts.

Most sprouting seeds will be ready to eat within 3 to 5 days from beginning. They are highly nutritious, tasty, and provide a source of satisfaction for me at having produced some of my own food, even in the dead of winter.

Alfalfa seeds are my favorite. Brocoli, radish, mung bean, and lintel are other common sprouts. Make sure the variety you decide to sprout are edible. If you want a suggestion, try alfalfa first. They are great on sandwiches and salads! Make sure your sprouting seeds are viable and organic.

If you do not live near an organic food store or health food store, you can google “sprouting seeds”. There are many on line sources of sprouting seeds. Do not use just any seeds you can get your hands on, as some seeds may have been sprayed with undesirable compounds to prevent premature sprouting.

I do my sprouts in wide mouth quart canning jars with special made sprouting lids. However, it is easy to adapt the canning jar rings to take a home cut piece of nylon or brass screen. The lids need screens in order to keep the seeds inside the jar during repeated rinses. After you develop the “rinse touch”, you might be able to finesse the seeds to stay in the jar without the lid!

To get started, select the seeds you wish to sprout. In the video, I am sprouting a mixture from Edith's Health & Specialty Store in Lewisburg, WV. Make sure you have a totally clean jar and lid. It probably does not have to be sterile to start, but there have been some isolated reports of bacterial contamination of sprouts producing food borne illness.

Put three teaspoons of seeds into the jar and then fill the jar with water. Leave the seeds to soak all day or overnight. For me, the key to being able to successfully sprout was to put the jars in plain sight near the sink, so that each time I saw them, I could attend to them as necessary. The total investment of time is minimal, but the seeds do need attention at least a couple of times per day most days.

From my personal experience, it is possible to find many sources of complex or arcane directions on sprouting. If the seeds are in a dark closet, I will forget them. Temperature control may be nice, but the marginal returns of that effort are minimal at best. Precise rinse intervals have proven to not be necessary. Life on Earth appears to be robust, and in my experience it only takes a slight human nudge to get the seeds to fulfill their destiny.

Just do not forget them for extended periods. Give them some attention at least two times per day most days, and the seeds will sprout.

When rinsing, especially at the beginning, you will notice a bit of foaminess to the water as it is poured onto the seeds. This is to be expected. I think it is the rinsing away of the substances that keep the seeds from sprouting until conditions are right. To rinse, fill the jar with water, and then pour it away. Try to make the seeds distribute evenly along the side of the jar.

I use a soup bowl to prop up the bottom of the jar. I lay the jar on its side, with the opening at the bottom of the bowl and the side of the jar resting on the edge. The angle of the jar is something less than 45 degrees from the counter surface, with the top of the jar lower, so residual water can continue to drain from the jar between rinses.

After 48 hours, you should notice the sprouts beginning to emerge from the seeds. You will probably notice continued growth with each rinse. Depending upon the type of seeds, you should see the cotelydons appear in three to five days. This is when they are ready to eat.

I have found that storing the seeds in the jar in the same position as between rinses keeps the sprouts crisp and fresh. Sunlight on the green sprouts will help them produce more of the enzymes and other nutrients to help you stay healthy. Get them eaten within four or five days. If you want a continuous supply, start your next batch as soon as the current one is ready. Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Eating Locally – March Soup

One of the goals of our Entropy Pawsed project is to produce or procure all of our food locally.

We want to know where our food comes from. The widely publicized outbreaks of food borne illness from products distributed not just nationwide but worldwide speak to the wisdom of knowing the origin of our food.

Our preferred food source is our own land. We know what goes into, and what comes out of, our little garden plot, and we know how it is handled, processed and stored. We now how to locate and identify wild edible plants – greens, mushrooms, nuts, berries and other fruit.

Our chickens roam freely (except when our German Shepherd Dog attempts to herd them) and supply us with eggs without hormones or antibiotics.

We tap our sugar maple trees in the spring. A few weeks of boiling down sap results in enough syrup (last year we made 36 pints) to last us a year.

Neighbors with fruit trees and larger gardens share their bounty. We share our eggs and maple syrup. Everyone shares their accumulated gardening and preserving wisdom.

We participate in a food co-op with neighbors. Co-op members buy local meat in bulk, and store it in one member's centrally located freezer. We have seen our local Mennonite butcher's immaculate meat processing facility that sits behind his house on his farm.

There are several local bakers who produce whole grain breads, bagels, and granola along with the occasional decadent sweet treat. We enjoy the aromas from the ovens when we stop in the bakeries.

A nearby farmer brings his dairy products to the local library. We have watched his cow basking in the sun, contentedly chewing the bright green grass in her pasture. Since health department regulations prohibit the direct sale of milk products to the public, we buy a “cow share” from the farmer. This “cow share” enables us to receive fresh milk, butter and yogurt, and supports the cow's pasture-al lifestyle.

Yes, these local products are usually more expensive than the mass-produced, high food mileage, high fructose corn syrup and preservative laden varieties available at big box grocery stores. And they are vastly superior in quality, taste and nutrition. And our food dollars support the local economy.

Eating locally contributes to our sense of place. We know our neighbors, the farmer, the butcher, the bakers, the chickens and the cow. We know what the land produces in what season. We know that what we put into our bodies comes from the local soil, water, air and efforts of local producers.

Here is our recipe for “March Soup” made (except for the optional salt and pepper) entirely from local foods:

½ pound each ground sausage and beef

4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized pieces

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces

1 quart canned tomatoes

1 quart canned green beans

1 tsp each dried parsley, sage and basil

1-3 Tbs maple syrup (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Throughly brown the ground meat. Add remaining ingredients plus enough water for desired consistency. Bring to a boil, then simmer until potatoes and squash are soft, usually 20-30 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to stand to 1-2 hours (or store overnight in the refrigerator) for flavors to blend. Bring to a boil again for 10 minutes. Served garnished with fresh chopped chives or other green. Serves 6-8.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

EntropyPawsed:Sense of Place

Development of a sense of place is integral to leading a fulfilled low energy lifestyle. One might even say a nature linked low energy lifestyle requires an expanded sense of place. Developing this sense may require us to suspend some of our beliefs as to the nature of world we inhabit. The development of an expanded sense of place may subsequently cause us to modify our belief set as to the nature of our world.

Part of the human condition means that each of us takes our growing up experience and extrapolates it to arrive at assumptions about the basic nature of life. For example, as a 10 year old Cub Scout in 1963, I watched films about a future USA where energy would be so plentiful that it would be free to all! Harnessing the process that powered the sun (nuclear fusion energy) was claimed to be 30 years from widespread deployment. My belief set caused me to accept this thesis, and I still believe in free energy to all! (Not really, but this fits better with my example:)

We are most likely helped along in this process by the unintended but pervasive conditioning happening to us while we grow up. Home, school, peers, church, teams, media are all sources of conditioning. What we are left with is a set of beliefs as to the fundamental nature of the world. We project those beliefs forward to give ourselves a set of expectations as to the nature of the world we now inhabit and will inhabit in the future.

However, many of us then immerse ourselves in various programs that modify the shape of this belief set. We may do this in professional training post graduate from university, and/or by various religious or personal development paths like Christianity, EST, mountaineering, psychotherapy, race car driving, Buddhism, ....

Development of an expanded sense of place may seem trivial, but it can provide a fundamental catalyst to help us develop a more realistic belief set as to the nature of the world.

It is significantly easier to develop a sense of place living in a rural setting. Small towns offer slightly more challenges. Cities are yet more challenging. If you live in a city, you might have to get really creative to find some bits of nature poking through the constructs of Homo sapiens sapiens.

There are many exercises that can help us develop a sense of place. Below are just a few. Check out the Wilderness Awareness School if you find a desire to thoroughly immerse yourself.

Walking each day along a similar path can help you get acquainted with your area in each of the seasons. Name some of the places where you walk. Study the characteristics of each place. Is it warm or cool? Flat or sloped? What kinds of plants growth there? How do you feel when you come to this place? Find more of your own questions to ask. Make the name memorable. Begin to refer to this place by name.

Take time to get to know some of the trees. Make sure you do not fall into the trap of learning its name and then thinking you know all there is to know.

Look closely at its bark on the trunk. Notice the patterns and colors. Is it patchy or scaly? Deeply fissured? Gray or brown? Reddish? Does the bark look the same or different higher up the tree? How about out on the branches? What is the branching pattern? Opposite or alternate? What color are the flowers? When does it flower? What tones of green are the leaves? What colors do they turn in the fall?

If you do not know the name, learn it. Learn the Latin name. What does it mean? What kind of fruit does it produce? Are there parts of the tree that are edible? Medicinal? What is the nature of its wood? Is it straight grained or interwoven? Hard of soft?

Find other questions. Maybe you will find you like a particular tree. No need to understand why. You can just befriend it. Give it a name perhaps. Visit it often.

Find a three foot by three foot patch of ground. Study it closely in all the seasons. Study the characteristics of the plants that grow there. Perhaps you can sketch some of them. Ask the relevant questions above of each plant. Here is an amazing resource about plants: Plants for a Future. Find some insects, worms, other beings in the web of life. Learn what you can.

Learn about the native soils and rocks of your area. Find examples.

Find a secret sit spot. Go sit there every day if you can. If not everyday, then sit there when you can. Be like an owl. Engage all of your senses. Feel the air against the skin of your cheek. Smell and taste the air. Listen to the sounds. Hear all the sounds in the range of your hearing. Unfocus your eyes. See the whole field of your vision without focusing in any one spot.

You will become hyper aware of movement by seeing your whole field of vision simultaneously. Perhaps the movement of a small insect will find your attention. If you focus on it, do so only momentarily, then go back to defocusing, and seeing your whole field of vision. Try to expand your awareness out to the entire area where you have been walking.

Learn some wild plants that are edible. Make sure of your identification before your eat them. But give them a try. What animals lived in your area historically? What humans lived there before us? (before civilization arrived). Put out some bird feed at your home or apartment. Watch the birds. Learn about them.

According to Jon Young of Wilderness Awareness School, who studied indigenous cultures worldwide as his post graduate university work, all cultures share some common traits. One of these traits is for the people to be able to travel the area they inhabit (within a several hour walk) mentally. This may not be as airy fairy as it first seems. If you are blessed with the time to develop your own sense of place, you may find that merely by quieting your mind, you will develop an awareness of what is happening in “your” place at any given time.

Visit our website,

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Washing Dishes at EntropyPawsed

We learned a lot about water conservation while backpacking. Having to carry and/or filter all of our water while hiking and overnight camping made us very aware of how much water we were using. We figured out how to wash our camping dishes (usually a cooking pot and two plates, cups and spoons) in less than one cup of water.

At EntropyPawsed, we have a hand pump well. This reminds us at least daily of our water usage. This daily reminder encouraged us to develop our current system of dish washing in which we use about one gallon of water to wash the dishes.

Instead of filling the sink, we pour about a quart of water into a small rectangular container that fits down in the sink. We prop the far end of the container on the back of the sink, so that all the water in the container collects in the front. We add to the water a fair amount of a non-toxic, biodegradable dish detergent. After all, soap is what kills any germs!

We put another quart of water into our tea kettle to heat on the stove top, then add one or two cups of the hot water to the water in the sink container. This creates a pool of water deep enough to wash the dishes. We have a double sink; we put the water container in one side and the dirty dishes in the other.

We put rinse water in a recycled plastic litre bottle with a drinking spout. This gives us greater control over how much water comes out of the bottle. Those who want to avoid plastic could use a glass bottle or a ceramic or metal pitcher instead.

We usually lick obvious food particles off our utensils, then place them in the sink container to soak. While we sometimes also lick our own plates and bowls, we also allow our dog and cat to lick them. Yes, we know many others who do this (including my mother!) and, no, there aren't any diseases we can catch from this.

We wash the drinking glasses and cups first, when the water is the cleanest. When rinsing a dish, we make sure the rinse water flows over and into the dirty dishes in the sink. We then use this rinse water to pre-wash the dishes, thereby keeping the wash water clean.

About halfway through the dish washing process, we frequently add to the wash water a little more hot water from the kettle, and refill the rinse water bottle. If we have a lot of dishes, we may need to fill the rinse bottle a third time.

We prefer to allow the dishes to air dry. We think this is more hygienic and definitely less labor intensive.

According to the EnergyStar website, the average dish washing machine uses 4 to 6 gallons of water per cycle. Plus, the website states that some households use up to 20 gallons of water pre-rinsing dishes prior to placing them in the dishwasher.

In a time of resource depletion with impending energy shortages, we think it prudent to be aware of, and appropriately modify, all our resource usage.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

EntropyPawsed Chickens

Chickens are great Permaculture animals. They require very little energy and time input, and they can convert unpalatable biomass to highly palatable and nutritious eggs and meat. Furthermore, with the utilization of chicken tractors, chickens can convert unproductive weedy areas to high quality pasture within one year through rotation, or can clean, fertilize and cultivate a garden bed within days.

Permaculture has been defined in many ways. The definition I like best is “a design system for creating sustainable human settlements.” One Permaculture technique is known as “Needs and Yields Analysis”. In this type of analysis, chickens are found to be overwhelmingly useful. See “Permaculture, A Designers' Manual” by Bill Mollison for more information.

Our daily routine at EntropyPawsed includes a brief visit to the chickens each morning. We make sure the birds have enough fresh water and food for the day, and open their door to the chicken yard. We often throw some two grain scratch (corn and wheat) and/or winter hay on the ground.

The parade out the chicken door starts with Red, the rooster, followed by most of his ten hens, clucking a bit excitedly at the adventure of the great outdoors. When the ground is snow covered, the birds will not venture forth. So often we do not bother to open their door on snowy days. Each evening, we close the door, thus making the chicken house totally predator proof.

Back in Ohio, when we were first considering chickens, we learned by talking to others a big mistake often made is to house the chickens in a place inescapable to them, but not tight enough against predators. We lost two of our hens to raccoons in the first couple months because they were outside their accommodations in evening. Since then, we have not had any further predator losses.

On most days, we require less than five minutes committed to attending to the chickens. In return, they provide us with eggs. During most seasons, the eggs number in excess of what Bonnie and I can eat. In the winter months, we sometimes have to supplement by buying a dozen local eggs at the market now and then.

We first had chickens back in Ohio in 1998. We purchased ten hens from a hatchery. The poor ladies were featherless on their backs from too many roosters. We learned after the one year old hens are finished supplying chicks for the season, unless the are sold as one year old slightly used layers like ours , they are destroyed.

Our hens and rooster were boxed up for the 100 mile drive back home. In the evening, we put them in their new accommodations, a chicken tractor built to the specifications provided in “The Chicken Tractor Handbook” by Andy Lee and Pat Foreman.

Over the next several days I watched them quietly for extended periods of time. I was practicing the “fox walk” during this era. I was able to successfully disappear from the chickens perceptions. What I noticed was remarkable. The chickens behaved almost exactly like groups of humans behave. Quiet talk(clucking) for a time, then uproar. Then quiet, cycling over and over.

The chickens lived in the chicken tractor except for winter when we moved them into the straw bail chicken house, also designed from the “Chicken Tractor Handbook”. We rotated them through 20 year old abandoned pasture, filled with poison ivy. Not only did we stop getting poison ivy after eating their eggs, but we noticed the land behind where the tractor had been was returning to high quality pasture.

After a two or three years, the chickens started to die of old age. We did not try to replace them, as we were by this time thinking of making a move. The result of that move is to what has now become EntropyPawsed.

Last summer, we received a phone call from someone in a neighboring town, inquiring as to if we were seeking chickens. We had pretty well resigned ourselves to waiting until Spring to raise some chicks, but did have the chicken house in place already and had put out the “word”. So within days we were once again with chickens.

Our land here in West Virginia is not as flat, and our area is wilder than back in Hocking County, Ohio. We are concerned about being able to keep chickens safe from predators in a chicken tractor. So we have adapted a well built, tight shed with a chicken door to our chicken house.

We still have not figured out how to pasture them around, but hope to come up with a solution this spring. Our ultimate goal is to have them pasture behind goats starting in 2010. In the meantime, we enjoy their eggs and their company. They are really demonstrative of their pleasure at the small things we do for them; feeding, bringing fresh water, and cleaning their house.

Gene Logsdon is a good source of information about chickens. He writes prolifically, having published many books. “The Contrary Farmer” is a good starter. Here is an interview with him, and here is his blog, .

Chickens are a good addition to any home that has some space to accommodate them. Not only do they convert unusable biomass to palatable eggs and meat, but they can also help with soil building. And they can be entertaining, too!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

EntropyPawsed Water Use

Water Use: How to get by on less than 10 gallons a day

At Entropy Pawsed, we use less than 10 gallons of water a day. We know this because we hand pump it from our well.

We are blessed to live in a location where water is abundant. The Appalachian Mountains in our region have many springs and streams, and potable deep well water is still easy to find. So why concern ourselves with conserving water?

Energy conservation is an important principle of Permaculture. Water use requires energy input. In cities, this energy input is in the form of water purification, water distribution infrastructure, and pumping systems. In our case, the initial input was in the form of the fossil fuels needed to build and operate the equipment to drill the well. Permaculture accepts the use of fossil fuels as a means to create systems that will minimize or eliminate future fossil fuel use. Certainly, fossils fuels were used to make the hand water pump. And, with proper maintenance, the pump will last for many generations, with energy savings exceeding the manufacturing energy input.

When we installed our well in 2003, the hand pump was three times more expensive than the electric pump (~$1,200 vs. $400); however, we are off grid and thought the benefits warranted the additional expense. We chose a hand pump partly because we have a small solar power system (see module …..), and did not want to use our limited electricity on an electric well pump. We also wanted to avoid the expense and energy input of the infrastructure necessary for running water. Indoor plumbing would have either necessitated a different heating system in our cabin (see module...) or prevented us from leaving home during the colder times of the year. We did not want to be so constrained by something that only a few generations ago was considered a luxury, not a necessity.

Usually once a day (depending on our usage and the weather) we pump water from the well into gallon water jugs we bring inside. Our primary water uses are for drinking, cooking, and washing dishes, using two to three gallons daily for these purposes. We provide drinking water for our chickens, about two gallons twice a week. We put down water bowls for our cat and dog, although usually they drink out of the nearby stream.

In most American homes, the toilet consumes the most water – 4 to 6 gallons per flush on older models, 1.5 gallons for newer models which, in our experience, frequently need to be flushed twice to completely empty. We use the Humanure system (add link?) to recycle our solid body waste. This requires no water at all. For convenience for urination at night, we have a five gallon bucket under a wooden frame with a toilet seat in the dressing room of our cabin. We dilute the urine 4:1 with water, and recycle it to the soil. This takes less than a gallon a day.

According to the EPA, the average 5 minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons of water. We shower once or twice a week (more on the health benefits of this in a future module) using less than 3 gallons per shower. We have two systems for showering. In cold weather we shower in the tiled “greenhouse” space inside our home, using a cylinder camping shower which we heat on our stovetop. During the warm months, we collect rainwater and use a gravity shower system at a separate structure we call our Wash House. (We will describe details of our rainwater collection and Humanure systems and the Wash House in a future module.)

We have not yet developed a low energy home system for clothes washing. Once every two or three weeks we take the laundry along with us when we go to town and do it in the laundromat. We have left the laundromat water use numbers out of our equations. From one perspective, shared appliances can lead to a significant reduction in our personal energy footprint.

To paraphrase an old Appalachian joke, “We don't have runnin' water, we got walkin' water – we walk out to the well to get it.”

Visit our website,

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

EntropyPawsed: Heating With Wood

For Bonnie and me, heating with wood was the catalyst that reconnected us with nature and put on us a path of a low energy lifestyle. How can something seemingly as simple as wood heat be such an important factor in our lives? The question is possibly answered by the process of heating with wood itself.

Our wood heat adventure started in 1994 when we moved into a small cabin in Hocking County, Ohio, about one hour southeast of Columbus. It had previously been a weekend retreat, and had a fireplace insert-type wood stove, along with baseboard electric heat. During plans for the remodeling, we decided to remove the electric baseboards and heat just with wood.

We purchased a Husquavarna chain saw, and I proceeded to read the owner's manual. When making my very first cut on a downed tree, I pinched the saw in the kerf. It was to be the first of many such pinches. That first winter, we bought most of our wood. But in all subsequent years in Hocking County, we cut, hauled, and split 100% of our wood ourselves. Some we scavenged by the roadsides in the area, some we cut from our own woods, the rest we cut for neighbors, keeping the wood in exchange for removing undesirable trees.

Ten years of cutting, hauling, and splitting wood for burning has the potential to provide a lot of education about trees and wood. Oak has a distinctive smell. Its grain is straight, making it easy to split. Hickory grain is not straight, making it difficult to split. Standing dead elm quickly dulls the chainsaw, and tends to be hard to split, but it holds fire even when dampened back 100%, black gum is almost impossible to split....

On a small rural holding, heating with wood can be sustainable. A rough estimate is “a cord per acre per year.” (A cord of wood is a stack that is 4 feet wide, 4 feet high, and 8 feet long.) Learning how to identify and make select cuts can improve a forest while yielding free fuel. Your local extension service office probably offers information and maybe even classes on how to improve your woodlot. Here is a comprehensive site offered by the University of New Hampshire Extension Service.

Early painful lessons have made me a zealot for wearing a helmet with hearing protection and and a face shield. I always remind myself when working with the chainsaw that an accident could kill me. It may be morbid, but it also hopefully keeps one fully present and focused on the job. When a cut is in doubt, don't do it. Wait and come back, ask for a second opinion, or just give it up. If you become reasonably proficient with a chainsaw, you may develop a whole new prospective on life.

The wood is first cut to the desired length (our current stove takes relatively short 12 to 14 inch pieces). Then it must be split to size. We have always split everything by hand. We have several metal wedges that we rarely use anymore, but they are handy for splitting big logs.

The tool of choice for splitting is a maul. It is a combination ax/sledgehammer. Maul heads range from five to nine pounds. The piece of wood is put upon a block (I use a log that will not split), the maul is lined up, and swung from straight over top the head. The idea is to generate speed at the maul head, similar to a golf swing. There is a satisfying “swack!” as the maul contacts and splits the wood. It takes a bit of practice to make the maul head hit the wood in the right place. The rule of thumb is that the maul goes where you look, so look right at the exact spot you want to hit!

Moving to West Virginia in 2001 gave us an opportunity to place our wood stove where it functioned best in the unfinished cabin. We previously blogged about “A Pattern Language” and the fire circle pattern that we used. We put the stove close to the center of our cabin, and the flue pipe goes straight up through the living space for more efficient dispersal of flue gas heat. The flue pipe pierces the building envelope close to the peak of the roof, and the triple wall chimney extends from the ceiling to above the peak of the roof. This design allows for a most efficient chimney system. More information about designing fireplace and stove systems is found here by the Wood Heat Organization.

It is important to properly maintain the chimney for efficient smoke removal and to reduce or eliminate the possibility of chimney fires. We always clean the chimney and flue each year at the start of the heating season. This year, due to winter's early arrival and much colder weather, we cleaned the chimney for the first time ever mid-season. Most stove manufacturers will suggest monthly cleanings. I recommend obtaining an appropriately sized brush for your flue, some poles, and doing your own cleaning. You can get it done in one afternoon. You will learn a lot about your system, you won't get scammed, and it won't cost you any money, and you will feel the satisfaction of a job well done when it is over.

Our nature-linked low energy living journey started with wood heat. There is a beauty and immense satisfaction in being able to supply ourselves with our own fuel for heating. Maybe there is something to that old Zen saying, “chop wood, carry water...”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

EntropyPawsed uses "A Pattern Language"

When we purchased our property, the house was an unfinished shell. We considered tearing it down – its long axis runs north/south, rather than east/west, the best passive solar orientation. We eventually decided to work with the existing structure so as not to waste the wood products already used. To do this, we knew we needed some design guidance.

We utilized the book “A Pattern Language” by architect Christopher Alexander and others. By 2001 when we began designing our EntropyPawsed living space, this book seemed almost as if it were brought to us by destiny. Several years prior, as we first began exploring organic gardening, and then Permaculture, we had been given several introductions to the book: by a relative who was an architecture student; by several practitioners of Permaculture; and finally in Frank's Permaculture courses at the EcoVillage Training Center and Earthaven.

In our modern culture, unless we have specifically trained in design or architecture, most of us feel unable to undertake the design process without professional help. The beauty and strength of “A Pattern Language” is that it provides virtually all of the tools needed to design fully human living spaces. It really is as simple as sitting down with the book and giving it enough time and attention. We can still recall the feeling of personal empowerment that came as our design progressed.

While the patterns of construction described in the book are fascinating, they were never really worked out and accepted. We opted to go with a more standard “stick built” approach because it is easily accessible, and Frank felt most comfortable in implementing and enhancing the standard construction experience he had gained over the years.

We spent hours looking at the various inter-related patterns described in the book, and ended up using more than a dozen in our home. We found that using the “language” of these patterns helped us look holistically and systematically at what outcomes we wanted in our home: function, comfort, beauty, ease of maintenance.

Our primary pattern is “Farmhouse Kitchen.” We wanted the home to reflect the rural surroundings, be comfortable, and to function well as a place to transform garden produce into fresh and preserved food. Using the “Open Shelves” pattern in the kitchen saved the expense (and space) of cabinets. The “Cooking Layout” and “Sunny Counter” patterns also helped create comfortable, usable space.

Within the “Farmhouse Kitchen Pattern” we embedded the “Fire Circle.” The fire has always been a place where people gather for conversation and story telling. We very carefully considered the location and orientation of the wood stove. We wanted the “Fire Circle” to connect and function, without interfering, with the “Farmhouse Kitchen.” We also needed the stove to be centrally located for even heat distribution.

“The Intimacy Gradient” pattern helped us with the placement of various design elements in relationship to the flow into the cabin from the front door, with the more public spaces near the front of the house, progressing to the more private areas in the back.

Our home is just over 500 square feet. Dividing it into small rooms just didn't seem practical. The discovery of the “Alcoves” pattern was a real revelation. Instead of a bedroom, we have a “Bed Alcove, with a “Sleeping to the East”-facing window. Instead of a separate office space, we have a “Half-Private Office” in which we have our desk, computer and assorted (small) electronics. Between the bed alcove and office space we have a “Dressing Room,” which provides privacy when dressing and undressing and a place to store clothes. All of the patterns are nested within the primary “Farmhouse Kitchen”and give consideration to the “Intimacy Gradient.”

We used the “Warm Colors” pattern in a number of subtle ways. We painted the ceiling a very light, soft yellow. The plywood walls allow the natural wood grain to be seen, and have a clear finish with a slight red tint. Using windows to bring in “Light on Two Sides of Every Room” resulted in natural light reflecting off of almost all of the wood surfaces.

The true test of any design is the feedback provided by how we are feeling while being in the space. We are gratified to report that not only are we pleased with the result, but that visitors uniformly describe our home as “warm” and “inviting.”

Our ultimate goal was a comfortable, beautiful place with minimal adverse environmental impact. We think we succeeded. For us, “A Pattern Language” was a valuable tool assisting us to significantly downsize our environmental impact.

Pattern Language has a website,

Visit the EntropyPawsed website,

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

EntropyPawsed Solar Electric System

Our EntropyPawsed cabin solar electric system is small and simple, yet the learning curve for us was considerable. When designing the remodeling and finishing of our cabin, we incorporated solar electric into the design. Our theme of simple and low energy included a desire to be able to do most of the work ourselves.

The discovery of the "Sandia Report, Photo voltaic Power Systems and The National Electrical Code: Suggested Practices" after fits and starts of reading and research, provided me with enough information on how to wire a system that I could proceed with growing confidence. When I started the installation, gaps remained in my ability to conceptualize it. However, upon completion, it now seems very straight forward and easy to understand.

While we looked at and considered cabin systems from various alternative energy suppliers, in the end we decided to piece the system together ourselves from several different suppliers. This saved a lot of money; our entire system cost less than $3,000. The Photo voltaic (PV) panels, deep cycle batteries, distribution panel, system controller, inverter, charger, generator, LED light, ceiling fan, and exhaust fan, were purchased from various on-line suppliers. The wire, connectors, junction boxes, conduit and miscellaneous hardware was purchased from local retail stores.

Our PV system consists of one GSE 60 Watt thin film panel, and two Sunwize 55 Watt polycrystalline panels. After purchasing the GSE panel, I read that most of the “25 year” polycrystalline panels purchased over 30 years ago were still producing in excess of 90 % of rated capacity. For us, longevity trumped new technology in the form of thin film.

The panels are mounted on a treated wood frame attached to the front of our south facing deck. I constructed the frame in a way that I can rotate easily to three positions; winter, spring and fall, and summer. Having the panels four feet high allows us to clean them of pollen, dust, snow and ice.

The panels are wired into a junction box where the three sets of leads are combined into one set of heavy 6 gauge wire. One can consult charts to determine the voltage loss at certain distances to determine the gauge of wire necessary. The 6 gauge wire runs 20 feet through conduit under the cabin and into a junction box, then into the cabin to a circuit breaker/cutoff.

From the inside cutoff, we use smaller 10 gauge wire to go 12 inches to our Morningstar Sunsaver 20 Photo voltaic System Controller. This inexpensive yet nifty little device acts as a charge and load controller. A particularly valuable function disconnects the load when battery bank voltage drops to 12.1. This protects the batteries and helps to maximize their life. As the saying goes, “Batteries don't die, they are murdered.” The Morningstar device works with panels producing less than 20 amps total. However, for larger systems, more than one device can be used in parallel.

The battery bank consists of three “no name” 12 volt, 75 amp hour glass mat lead acid batteries wired in parallel into a safety cutoff, and then into the Morningstar Controller. All devices powered by the system are referred to as the “load”. We purchased a 12 volt pre-wired distribution panel from New England Solar Electric for load distribution. Each of our four load devices are on a separate 10 amp Square D “QO” breaker circuit. Only this breaker reliably works with 12 volt systems.

Our four load circuits/devices are an LED light, a ceiling fan, and exhaust fan, and an inverter. Our inverter is an AIMS 1250 watt truck inverter, the kind normally plugged into a cigaret lighter, but hardwired in ours. Since it is much larger than needed, the inverter works very efficiently. The inverter is located near the load center to minimize 12 volt current losses. A back up inverter is stored nearby, as the inverter can be a weak component in PV systems.

A dark green extension cord (matches our trim) goes from the inverter window seat location near the front of our cabin to the office alcove at the rear. It plugs into a three-in-one adapter. Plugged into it are two 6-outlet power strips. This arrangement powers our DSL modem, our laptop computer, computer speakers, our printer, Bonnie's cell phone charger, our AAA battery charger, and our cordless phone. We have found it important to be very diligent in completely turning off everything when not using the system. Our stored photons are very precious.

When it is cloudy and our battery bank voltage falls below 12.1, the system cuts off. Then we must run our generator to recharge our batteries. Our generator is located in a shed far enough from the house to preclude exhaust fumes. We run a heavy red (14 amp) extension cord to a small box on the outside of the cabin where we plug into our Xantrex 40 amp charger located inside next to the battery bank. It takes about three hours to fully charge the batteries. During this time, we use a second extension cord from the generator to supply the power strips in the office alcove.

We have been using the system for about a year and a half. We are using the wired LED light, ceiling fan, and exhaust fan very infrequently. We use the modem and computer a great deal, and the other devices in our office alcove as needed.

We vigorously debated the merits of doing PV versus no electric (our cabin is “off grid”). In researching solar electric energy returned on energy invested (EROI) results range from 0.5 to 20. If we trust the low end of the range, that means solar electric is unsustainable. If we trust the high end, the energy returned is better than fossil fuels. Only time will tell if such systems are sustainable. I think perhaps they are not, but are rather a bridge to a low energy future for those of us who have grown up in the age of electricity.

The PV System has afforded us the opportunity of transitioning our EntropyPawsed project to a perhaps more sustainable remote learning basis. From a Permaculture perspective, whereby we take advantage of fossil fuel inputs to implement a sustainable system, we can justify the resource investment in PV, while knowing as we proceed into the future, these inputs will grow increasingly scarce.

Here are the most important lessons learned through our relationship with PV:

  • Climb most of the learning curve before purchasing expensive components and attempting installation
  • Buy polycrystalline PV panels
  • Do not use Romex (solid AC type wire) or AC components. 12 volt must be wired with braided wires, mechanical connectors, and special spring loaded switches.
  • Make sure your wires are suitable gauge
  • Do not add a battery to your Glass Mat battery bank after it has been in use for more than a month or two.. Carefully size your bank initially. Wait until replacing the entire bank to add capacity.
  • Don't add other significant loads to the generator when running your deep cycle battery charger (You might melt your charger wires/connectors)
  • There is nothing so complicated that an American cannot further complicate it.
  • The PV system is never big enough in a West Virginia winter
  • We like oil lamp and candle light. Bonnie doesn't miss television. Frank only does a little during football season:)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gardening in January

To plant a seed is to believe in the future

In our part of the Northern Hemisphere, January is a time for garden planning. The soil is hard and snow-covered, the compost pile frozen, the soil amendments stored away for the winter. There's not much visibly happening outside.

Inside, near our warm wood-burning stove, we study seed catalogs, read and re-read garden advice books, and look through the newest garden calendar from the West Virginia University Extension Service.

We gauge the square footage in our garden, keeping vertical space in mind, as many plants such as tomatoes, beans and cucumbers grow well on trellising. We make a list of what we want to grow, based not only on what we like to eat, but also on what is easily grown and preserved and has the most nutritional value. We consider what can be grown in pots on window ledges and on the porch.

We draw a diagram of the garden, thinking of what to put where. The hard-neck garlic is already in, planted in October to be harvested in July. There are still potatoes in the ground; with heavy (~6 inches) mulching, we have found this is an easy way to store them over the winter. We have three patches of Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes. The roots of these self-propagating perennials can be an important emergency food source.

We decide what else to plant. Here is a list of 11 superfoods from a New YorkTimes Blog, Tara Parker-Pope on Health. We cannot grow all these foods here, but we can grow beets, cabbage, chard, blueberries and pumpkins. We also like tomatoes, beans, butternut squash, kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, and potatoes (Kennebec's are the local choice for our surprisingly short growing season here in the mountains). Our final selections will come from the above named foods.

We order most of our seeds from two catalogs: Seeds of Change ( and Seed Savers Exchange ( These catalogs offer certified organic and heirloom seeds, and provide detailed descriptions of the varieties listed. These organizations obtain their seeds from independent growers and plant collectors dedicated to preserving heirloom plants. We have also purchased from Turtle Tree Seeds (, which offers bio-dynamically produced seeds from the Camphill communities ( .

Over time, we hope to propagate as many of our own seeds as possible. Not only does this save ordering and buying each year, but over time the lines of plants we cultivate will adapt to the specific conditions of our site.

Gardening books we have found helpful include: “How to Grow More Vegetables (than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine)” by John Jeavons; “Four Season Harvest” by Eliot Coleman; “Gardening When It Counts (Growing Food in Hard Times)” by Steve Solomon; and “Seed to Seed,” a book about seed saving, by Suzanne Ashworth.

Winter is also a good time to clean and sharpen garden tools. If replacements are needed, they can be found in an unhurried way versus a rush when they are needed, and are frequently less expensive in the off season.

So even though activity in the garden in January appears to be at a standstill, for the successful gardener, it is a month of planning and cultivating a vision of future success as the Earth advances along its orbital path around the Sun.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Introduction to EntropyPawsed 101 Module 1

The EntropyPawsed project, physically located in southeastern West Virginia, seeks to utilize the Second Law of Thermodynamics, human development, Permaculture, Deep Ecology, medicine, and life experiences to demonstrate how to survive and thrive in the coming years. To date, EntropyPawsed has been described by its developers Frank and Bonnie Gifford as “a nature linked low energy living demonstration site.” Beginning in early 2009, EntropyPawsed will post a series of on-line articles and videos focused on issues and skills relevant to the future. In this way we hope not only to attenuate the inherent contradictions of high energy expenditure travel to promote sustainability, but also add to the growing conversation of how we design for the future.

Within the context of our sheer numbers, at first glance humans seem well equipped for future survival. However, when viewed within the context of the human population growth curve and ecological systems, human actions and reactions of the recent past several decades raise serious questions as to whether we are equipped perceptually to survive in a post industrial world. Systems upon which the vast majority of modern humans rely for basic survival needs - water, food, and sanitation - are often and increasingly centralized and/or fragile. A very real possibility exists for increasing dysfunction and possible collapse of these and other systems integral to modern industrial civilization.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is also referred to as the Entropy Law. Simply stated, Entropy says energy always goes from concentration to dilution. The implications of this simple fact upon science, technology and modern industrial civilization are immense. One might legitimately ask what something as seemingly arcane as entropy has to do with surviving in the future? This concept has proven difficult or impossible to grasp for most, probably because it stands in opposition to our inculcated world views. By taking a patient, open minded approach with the material and references herein, the links of entropy to the future will gradually reveal themselves in their full importance. The concept of entropy was not discovered through theoretical thinking . Rather, its discovery came through observations of steam engines during the Industrial Revolution. Understanding the Second Law through reading can be daunting. While a scientific grounding may seem required, actions and writings of many modern scientists suggest the 2nd Law is not well understood even in the scientific community. Many scientific community supported proposals such as those for a hydrogen economy, biofuels, pervasive nuclear technology, coal slurry impoundments, clean coal, and the introduction of terminator genes in crops, suggest either an ignorance of the 2nd Law, or wishful thinking for a successful violation of it. In fact, the modern human desire to override the 2nd Law is so strong that once the Entropy Law was formulated, Maxwell's Demon, a thought experiment seeking exceptions to it, soon followed. Maxwell's Demon was devised by Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell in 1867. Its sole purpose is to find some way around the Entropy Law. A good starting point for more information about entropy is Once one has developed a reasonable understanding of the Entropy Law, then the folly of proposals to use biofuels, hydrogen, air, algae, power a continuance of our auto and truck based modern culture will then be seen as fruitless if not ludicrous. When first assessing notions of entropy, it is important to remember that fossil fuels possess concentrations of potential energy from millions of years of sunlight upon living plants and fungi. A more complete understanding of the Entropy Law yields a possible future that is more agrarian and less industrial. Unfortunately, from some perspectives, the nature of the Entropy Law seems counter to the “American Dream”.

By observing the actions of our political and economic leaders during the extant financial crisis, a potentially unsettling picture develops. To a perceptive observer, it quickly becomes apparent those in charge have an extremely limited palette of insight and responses. Even though a vast multitude of businesses and individuals are in “hock over their heads”, all remedial actions to date seem aimed at providing yet more credit. The majority of these remedial actions unfortunately may well prove counterproductive to any kind of effective longterm response. Diagnoses of the problem tend to revolve around various kinds of assessments of deficit in newly engineered financial instruments, oversight, social conscience, etc.. Is it possible that the financial crisis and resulting economic meltdown are really just symptomatic? Does the combination of resource stringency, environmental degradation, human overpopulation, and climate change play any role in the current crises? These questions beg questions about what it means to be human. How do I perceive the world I inhabit? How is my world view shaped? Unfortunately, from the observed inept responses of our current leadership, it appears no consideration has been given these crucially important questions, likely due to the inability to perceive even the need for such questions.

We see and react to a thunderstorm, but we cannot perceive the dire state of forest health in the eastern United States. The thunderstorm happens quickly, and humans evolved to perceive this immediate threat. Forest health is being slowly, over the course of decades, attenuated by human polluted air and rain. Our lifespans are too short, and the process is too long, for us to notice or it to cause widespread alarm. An answer to this is the development of the ability to observe and understand longer term phenomena. Fortunately for younger generations, there is a group that works exclusively in this area of human perceptions. The entity here in the United States is the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge, or ISHK. Robert Ornstein, PhD, a world renowned psychologist, is the executive director. ISHK has a website, with a“Recommended Reading” list. Our project, EntropyPawsed, is partly the result of a number of years work with the materials distributed by ISHK. This work's yield is that any of many possible scenarios that seek to leave a reasonable Earth to future generations of living beings includes a critical mass of humans who are aware of what it means to be human, who understand the deficits in our perceptive apparati, and who have learned to consciously remediate perceptive deficits.

EntropyPawsed also utilizes the principles of Permaculture as it provides a design system for sustainable human settlement. David Holmgren, co-founder of Permaculture, observes in his book “Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability” that humans know how to live sustainably. For virtually the entire time humans have inhabited this planet humans have lived in this way, except for this very brief instant of the past ten thousand years. The human way of sustainability revolves around indigenous lifestyles. These ideas are often in complete opposition to the inculcated world view of many inhabitants of modern cultures. Most Americans are so strongly biased against this notion it is not possible for them to evaluate this observation on its merits.

Deep Ecology dovetails with Permaculture. In effect, Deep Ecology ties the dis-ease of modern humans to the loss of connection to the natural world, and therefore seeks to establish ways for humans to reconnect with the natural world. For urban dwellers, likely starting places are balconies with plants, city parks and nature trails. For those more fortunate ones who dwell in a rural place, the reconnection with nature is significantly easier to effect; finding a daily walk, naming natural spots based upon observed characteristics, learning to find one's way without a GPS, learning not only the names, but also characteristics of plants you see.

The issue of health is integral to any possible desirable future, particularly one where humans thrive. “Dis-ease” could well be the result of humans living in arrangements for which we are not evolved. In indigenous communities all humans would know all other humans with whom they had contact, for their entire lives, and the connection with the plants and animals of the place where they lived would be strong. The arrival of a wayfarer would have been rare and strange. And yet in modern culture, we continually put ourselves in environments where we know few if any individuals, and where there are few other living plants and animals. Modern airports epitomize this condition. How much stress is created for the individual in these “friendless “environments? Any desirable future incorporates consideration for the health of the individual as well as all living beings, for one without the other is not possible.

Try walking alongside any road in suburban America to experience first hand the level of violence inherent in simple acts of transportation in modern culture. Witness a large track hoe digging up a 200 year old tree, roots and all in one “bite”. Modern humans are inured to violence, so much so that many will subject themselves to extreme depictions of violence in movies like Mel Gibson's “The Passion of Christ”, thinking it is somehow about their own personal redemption. The idea of redemption has merit, however this approach only yields more inurement thereby moving further away from health. Health is the opposite of what today's disease management system strives to perpetuate. Good health is not compatible with maximizing businesses bottom line, whereby chronic illnesses are “managed” rather than prevented.

John Michael Greer writes a weekly blog entitled The Archdruid Report. His essays are informative, entertaining, and thought provoking. In December of 2008 Greer wrote about dissensus. Merriam_Webster Online defines dissensus as difference of opinion. Greer was promoting the idea of allowing differences of opinion to exist, and even embracing them as we explore possible future lifestyles. This was within the context of thinking about our future, and how it may unfold. In nature, the yield of diversity is resilience.

EntropyPawsed embraces dissensus and diversity. It is acknowledged that no other humans would design the EntropyPawsed project quite like Bonnie and Frank have, or even give it the same name. We do not espouse this to be the one right way; just our way. A caveat: Doing one's own thing hopefully means not falling into one or more of the many pitfalls resultant from living in modern industrial civilization. A belief that the Entropy Law can be violated is a serious limiting factor when designing for human sustainability. For the sake of future generations, it is imperative that we learn to design in accordance to the Entropy Law, that we begin to fully understand what it means to be human in a modern industrial civilization, that we begin to embrace concepts of good health and detach ourselves from the current disease management system. We then learn to reject projects that purport success while relying on tacit violation of crucial laws like the Entropy Law, or the Law of Life as espoused by Daniel Quinn. One of the goals of the coming educational series is to describe more fully what it means to be human, and convey how growing up in modern Western civilization has skewed our view of reality. We hope to point out some of the pervasive myths of modern humans, like “technology will save us”, “there is plenty of oil if the price is right”, “all resources are infinitely replaceable”, “human progress is totally a result of human ingenuity”. We will discuss the importance of developing a strong positive but realistic vision of the future, and how by making the fulfillment of our vision our life's work, we find not only deep personal fulfillment, but also create the conditions for leaving a reasonable Earth to the future generations of living beings.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Walk Up the Mountain

Bonnie and I have taken to walking up the mountain again. Actually, we have two mountains we can walk up. All walks up are beautiful, but physically challenging. Six years ago, before we moved, I explored this valley and had great range walking. I am looking to regain some range this year, after four years of sitting too much on my backside:) It might seem really simple, but if you look at a human body, the largest most noticeable (besides faces-another story) part is the legs. What is their evolutionary adaptation? Walking. For all of human existence, each and every one of us walked on average probably ten miles per day. I maintain almost all physical and emotional dis-ease can be eased through walking. Join us for a walk!