Notes from Windward: #57

First the cup; then the coffee

Thoughts on the order of things

A complex system can look very different, depending on how it's viewed. While we try to reduce what we do to the basics, to make it as simple and comprehensible as possible, there's still a minimum level of complexity below which you can't go without putting the system at risk.

This insider/outsider perspective problem is bad enough; when you factor in the fourth dimension, time, the gap between what new eyes see and what old eyes see, is almost unbridgeable. None-the-less, we have to work to create that bridge, a goal which lies at the heart of why this newsletter exists.

One more thing; no matter how earnestly you may want to go in a certain direction, sometimes you just can't get there from where you are. Sometimes, the only viable path lies in going back to some earlier, more fundamental place, and embarking from there. For many people, Windward serves as a transfer point where they disembark from one journey, and prepare to reembark on another. As part of the "station crew" it's fascinating to see people arrive from all sorts of strange and interesting places, and then watch as they strike off in search of their personal destiny.

From the inside, Windward looks more like a ship sailing through time. The Windward that made the long journey to start this project on raw land lives on in the fruit of what it accomplished, and in the memories of those who worked to make it happen, but that Windward is gone with the winds of time. In its place is a new Windward that has been shaped by the characters of those who have been a part of this journey. However linked the two Windward's are, they are different, which is as it should be. Life is about change and choices, and about consequences.

Living close to the land, we're linked to the passing of the seasons and the rhythms of life. The ticking of the calendar is always with us here. There's much to do before winter comes, and before planting time in the spring, or then harvest in the fall. We've developed an almost visceral awareness of what time of year it is.

One effect of this different awareness of time is that we often do things based on what the circumstances will be months down the road, instead of the circumstances directly at hand. An example is the cutting and storing of fire wood. This is something which needs to be done in May, or June at the latest, which seems odd since it's months before winter, and after dealing with firewood all winter, it's emotionally time for a break from dealing with it.

All that not withstanding, we do firewood in the spring because 1) our firewood comes from trees that have been knocked down by the winter snowload and need to be cleared up and out of the way, and 2) the heat value of wood is inversely proportional to its moisture content. Wood that is cut, split and stacked in the wood shed in late spring will have all summer to dry out, and be at it's peak of usefulness come the fall. Wood that isn't cut and split until after the dry season, even if it comes from a tree that's been dead for a couple of years, will be slow to ignite, give off a lot of smoke and generally be troublesome to work with.

Another way this different perspective manifests itself is that we often appear to be going backwards towards our objective. Anyone who's tacked a sailboat into the wind understands that sometimes you have to make progress first to one side and then the other inorder to work your way into the wind. Make no mistake, to try and take control of your life and the context within which you live that life, is bucking the prevailing wind.

The consumer oriented culture that is hammered into people through radio, television and print today bears the unrelenting message that nothing you can do is as good as what you can buy, and that you'd be foolish to even try to do things for yourself. Last summer's advertising slogan for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Inc., "You'd be crazy to cook!" is a good example. This culture of impotent consumerism has all but washed away the traditional American values of thrit, self-reliance and creativity.

Windward isn't about making a few modest changes in our lifestyle; it's about creating a fundamentally different approach to enabling people to work together in diginity in order to create a wholesome, sustainable livelihood. It's about finding ways to live positive lives, while helping others to do the same. That's a pretty large order, and it's only reasonable that it would require some innovation and creativity to affect such a solution.

Much of what we're working with and on isn't so much a matter of creating new solutions, but rather it's the recreating of old solutions in new forms. While the times have changed a lot, people have changed very little. The present circumstances are bringing out some unwholesome aspects of human nature, and since there's precious little we can do to change human nature, our attention is focused on gaining a greater control over the circumstances within which we live, love and work. We're not focused on making money, but rather on creating and preserving value; not the creation of jobs, but rather the creation of livelihoods.

To do that, time and again, we have to go back to the basics, and it's our recurrent focusing on the prerequisites that seems to be most confusing to outsiders looking in. They're wanting a cup of coffee, and we're talking about which types of clay make the best cups. They want fresh bread, and we're studying the construction and use of stone ovens. They want fresh vegetables, and we're working on ways to generate larger quantities of compost.

Why do we work the hassle of going back to the basics? One reason is that it gives us a degree of control over the process that we could never otherwise achieve, and it's this control that creates a range of viable options. If you're working with the same set of options that are available to everyone else, it's unlikely you'll come up with anything truly innovative. To do that, you have to break new ground, and often the only way to do that is to go back to the basics and take a fresh approach.

This process of going back to the basics, time and again. is tedious. It's work, and often the results aren't any better than what could have been accomplished by more common means. But now and again, you come across a forgotten door that leads into the most remarkable directions, and offers unimagined benefits. At the very least, returning to the basics offers the security of knowing that you can do what needs to be done; at the very best, it offers you the chance to do things that otherwise couldn't be done at all.

So, if you visit Windward and are offered a cup of coffee, I hope you'll understand if the conversation turns to the nature of clay.

Index for Notes Issue # 57 ---- The Windward Home Page