Sharon Astyk, like many Watershed Sentinel readers, is well advanced down the route of low energy living. As such, these suggestions go far beyond the usual stale sustainability tips for consumers and into the kind of adaptations that can reduce our energy usage, not by percentage points, but by orders of magnitude. At thesame time, they offer rich challenges, good food, and meaningful family and community experiences.
WINTER AND SPRING
by Sharon Astyk – Published December 17, 2006
by Energy Bulletin, http://www.energybulletin.net
1. Your local adult education program almost certainly has something useful to teach you – woodworking, crocheting, music training, horseback riding, CPR, herbalism, vegetarian cookery… take advantage of people who want to teach their skills.
2. Get serious about land use planning – even if you live in a suburban neighbourhood, you can find ways to optimize your land to produce the most food, fuel and barterables. Sit down and think hard about what you can do to make your land and your life more sustainable in the coming year.
3. The Winter lull is an excellent time to get involved in public affairs. No matter how cynical you tend to be, nothing ever changed without engagement. So get out there. Stand for office. Join. Volunteer.
4. Now is the time to prepare for illness – keep a stock of remedies, including useful antibiotics (although know what you are doing, don’t just buy them and take them), vitamin C supplements (I like elderberry syrup), painkillers, herbs, and tools for handling even serious illness by yourself. In the event of a truly severe epidemic of flu or other illness, avoiding illness and treating sick family members at home whenever possible may be safer than taking them to over-worked and over-crowded hospitals (or, it may not, but planning for the former won’t prevent you from using the hospital if you need it).
5. Most schools would be delighted to have volunteers come in and talk about conservation, gardening, small livestock, home-scale mechanics, ham radio, etc., and most homeschooling families would be similarly thrilled. Consider offering to teach something you know that will be helpful post-peak (although I wouldn’t recommend discussing peak oil with any but the oldest teenagers, and not even that without their parents’ permission.)
6. Now is the time to convince your business, synagogue, church, school, community center to put a garden on that empty lawn. If you start the campaign now, you can be ready to plant in the spring. Produce can be shared among participants or offered to the needy.
7. The one-two punch of rising heating oil and gas prices may well be what is needed to make your family and friends more receptive to the peak oil message. Try again. At the very least, emphasize the options for mitigating increased economic strain with sustainable practices.
8. Get together with neighbours and check in on your area’s elderly and disabled people. Make a plan that ensures they will be checked on during bad weather, power outages, etc. Offer help with stocking up for winter or maintaining equipment. And watch for signs that they are struggling economically.
9. Work on raising money and getting help with local poverty-abatement programs. After the holidays, people struggle. They get hungry and cold. Remember, besides the fact that it is the right thing to do, the life you save may be your own.
10. Get out and enjoy the cold weather. It is hard to adapt to colder temperatures if you spend all your time huddled in front of a heater. Ski, snowshoe, sled, shovel, have a snowball fight, build a hut, go winter camping, but get comfortable with the cold, snowy world around you.
11. Have your chimney(s) inspected, and learn to clean your own. Learn to care for your kerosene lamps, to use candles safely, and how to use and maintain your smoke and CO detectors and fire extinguishers. Winter is peak fire season, so keep safe.
12. Grow sprouts on your windowsill.
13. Now is an excellent time to reconsider how you use your house. Look around. Could you make more space? House more people? Do projects more efficiently? Add greenhouse space? Put in a homemade composting toilet? Work with what you have to make it more useful.
14. If a holiday gift exchange is part of your life, make most of your gifts. Knit, whittle, build, sew, or otherwise create something beautiful for the people you love.
15. If someone wants to buy you something, request a useful tool or preparedness item, or a gift certificate. Considering giving such gifts to friends and family – a solar crank radio, an LED flashlight, cast iron pans. These are useful and appreciated items whether or not you believe in peak oil.
16. Do a dry run in the dead of winter. Turn out all the power, turn off the water. Turn off all fossil-fuel sources of heat, and see how things go for a few days. Use what you learn to improve your preparedness, and have fun while doing it.
17. Learn to mend clothing, patch and make patchwork out of old clothes.
18. Write letters to people. The post is the most reliable way of communicating. And letters last forever.
19. Make a list of goals for the coming year, and the coming five years. Start keeping records of your goals and your successes and failures.
20. Keep a journal. Your children and grandchildren (or someone else’s) may want to know what these days were like.
21. Wash your hands frequently, and avoid stress. Stay healthy so that you can be useful to those around you.
22. For those subject to depression or anxiety, winter can be hard. Find ways to relax, decompress, and use work as an antidote to fear whenever possible. Get outside on sunny days, and try and exercise as much as possible to help maintain a positive attitude.
23. Memorize a poem or song every week. No matter what happens to you, no one can ever take away the music and words you hold in your mind. You can have them as comfort and pleasure wherever you go, and in whatever circumstances.
24. Take advantage of heating stoves by cooking on them. You can make soups or stews on top of any wood stove or even many radiators, and you can build or buy a metal oven to bake in that sits on top of the woodstove.
25. Winter is a time of quiet and contemplation. Go outside. Hear the silence. Take pleasure in what you have achieved over the past year. Focus on the abundance of this present, this day, rather than scarcity to come.
1. Rethink your seed-starting regimen. How will you do it without potting soil, grow lights, and warming mats? Consider creating manure-heated hotbeds, using your own compost, building a greenhouse or coldframe, direct seeding early versions of transplanted crops, etc.
2. Your local feed store has chicks right now – even suburbanites might consider ordering a few bantam hens and keeping them as exotic birds. Worth a shot, no? You can grow some feed in your garden for them, as well as enjoy the eggs.
3. Order enough seeds for three years of gardening. If by next spring, we are all unable to get replacement seed, will you have produced everything you need? What if you can’t grow for a year because of some crisis? Order extras from places with cheap seed like www.fedcoseeds.com, www.superseeds.com, www.rareseed.com.
4. Yard sale season will begin soon in the warmer parts of the country, and auctions are picking up now in the North. Stocking up on things like shoes, extra coats, kids clothing in larger sizes, hand tools, garden equipment is simply prudent – and can save a lot of money.
5. The real estate “season” will begin shortly, with families wanting to get settled in new homes during the summer before the school year starts. If you are planning on buying or selling this year, now is the time to research the market, new locations, find that country property or the urban duplex with a big yard.
6. Once pastures are flush, last year’s hay is usually a bargain, and many farmers clean out their barns. Manure and old hay are great soil builders for anyone.
7. Check out your local animal shelter and adopt a dog or cat for rodent control, protection and friendship during peak oil.
8. As things green up, begin to identify and use local wild edibles. Eat your lawn’s dandelions, your daylily shoots, new nettles. Hunt for morels but learn what you are doing first! Get in the habit of seeing what food there is to be had everywhere you go.
9. Set up rainbarrel or cistern systems and start harvesting your precipitation.
10. Planning to only grow vegetables? Truly sustainable gardens include a lot of pretty flowers, which have value as medicinals, dye and fiber plants, seasoning herbs, and natural cleaners and pest repellants. Instead of giving up ornamentals altogether, grow a garden full of daylilies, lady’s mantle, dye hollyhocks and coreopsis, foxgloves, soapwort, bayberry, hip roses, bee balm, and other useful beauties.
11. Get a garden in somewhere around you – campaign to turn open space into a community garden, ask if you can use a friend’s backyard, get your company or church, synagogue, mosque, or school to grow a garden for the poor. Every garden and experienced gardener we have is a potential hedge against the disaster.
12. Join a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) project if you don’t garden, and get practice cooking and eating a local diet in season.
13. Eggs and greens are at their best in spring – dehydrated greens and cooked eggshells, ground up together add calcium and a host of other nutrients to flour, and you won’t taste them. We’re not going to be able to afford to waste food in the future, so get out of the habit now.
14. Make rhubarb, parsnip, or dandelion wine for later consumption.
15. Now that warmer weather is here, start walking for more of your daily needs. Even a four or five mile walk is quite reasonable for most healthy people.
16. Start a compost pile, or begin worm composting. Everyone can and should compost. Even apartment dwellers can keep worms or a compost bin and use the product as potting soil.
17. Use spring holidays and feasts as a chance to bring up peak oil with friends and family. Freedom and rebirth are excellent subjects to lead into the Long Emergency.
18. Store the components of some traditional spring holiday foods so that in hard times your family can maintain its traditions and celebrations.
19. With the renewal of the building season, now is the time to scavenge free building materials, like cinder blocks, old windows, and scrap wood – with permission, of course.
20. Try and adapt to the spring weather early – get outside, turn down your heat or bank your fires, cut down on your fuel consumption as though you had no choice. Put on those sweaters one more time.
21. Shepherds are flush with wool – now is the time to buy some fleece and start spinning! Drop spindles are easy to make and cheap to use. Check out www.learn-tospin.com
22. Take a hard look back over the last winter – if you had had to survive on what you grew and stored last year, would you have made it? Early spring was famously the “starving time” when stores ran out and everyone was hungry. When you plan your food needs, remember that not much produces early in spring in northern climates; a winter’s worth of food must last until May or June.
23. Trade cuttings and divisions, seeds and seedlings with your neighbours. Learn what’s out there in your community, and sneak some useful plants into your neighbours’ gardens.
24. If you’ve got a nearby college, consider scavenging the dorm dumpsters. College students often leave astounding amounts of stuff behind, including excellent books, clothes, furniture, etc…
25. Say a schecheyanu, a blessing, or a prayer. Or simply be grateful for a series of coincidences that permit us to be here, in this place, as the world and the seasons come to life again. Try to make sure that this year, this time, you will take more joy in what you have, and prepare a bit better to soften the blow that is about to fall.
First published on Sharon’s website, Our Victory at Home, www.ourvictoryathome.com.
Look for the Summer and Fall lists in the May/June 2007 Watershed Sentinel.