Notes from Windward: #67


Thoughts on Sheep and Wool

Lindsay describes her vision of a material culture

     Fall is in the air today. For the first time since I have been here, the sky is fully overcast and the wind is blowing out of the north. A t-shirt and shorts no longer kept me warm enough to remain comfortable while working outside, and instead I had to put on longer layers. It is a day when curling up under a warm blanket, sipping soup and reading a book seem only just out of reach.

     After lunch, I walked up to the top of the sheep pen, where the “waste” wool still lay on the ground from when we last sheared the sheep several weeks ago. The hair fibers that comprise the majority of the wool on the belly of the sheep are too short to be used for spinning, so we are hoping to use this wool as a filter for the aquaponics system.

     So, to protect it from the rain that was threatening to fall, I began gathering the wool and stuffing it into burlap bags to be stored. The wool was somewhat greasy, and dried leaves, bark and twigs were tangled in with the fibers. But it was soft and warm, and my hands welcomed the gentle fluff between my dry and callused fingers. I thought I smelled that musty scent of an old wool sweater, but after holding the wool up to my nose, the only thing it smelled like was decidedly sheep.

     Breathing in the cool afternoon air, I felt comforted that here was a material that could be produced on site that would help keep us warm through the winter. Certainly it would take a concerted effort to turn the sheared wool into a familiar form of clothing or a blanket. But if necessary, it could be done; all the tools are here.

     The tools and equipment to transform many other materials into usable, familiar forms are here at Windward too. To unacquainted eyes, the equipment appears strange and scattered around the property. Only once you use the wood chipper, or concrete mixer, or backhoe (and imagine doing the task at hand without these pieces of equipment) do they take on meaning and real value for newcomers. Attempting to build a community based on sustainable livelihoods by no means suggests a scarcity of stuff. To the contrary, these materials form the necessary foundation upon which sustainable systems can be built.

     We have come to know the American lifestyle as a "materialistic" culture; one that values money as an entity in its own right--that we can accumulate and use to purchase goods that express wealth and status but also normalcy and belonging. In a "materialistic" culture we expect money and the goods it buys to provide the consumer with satisfaction and happiness, without regard to the real costs of the items purchased.

     I want to live in a material culture, a true material culture. A culture that values the items that we rely on to survive: food, fabrics, lumber, fuel, stone, minerals, the land that produces the raw materials and the labor that transforms the raw materials into items we can utilize. A material culture in which people can create value and accumulate assets that can be passed on to future generations; where the capital preserved in land is conserved and enhanced through stewardship; where materials are transformed into goods for community use or trade, and appropriate, human-scale technology is developed to efficiently utilize available resources and minimize waste; where we can intentionally improve the quality of life for current and future generations through our everyday activities.

     Developing a material culture is a process that grounds imagination and creativity in the natural rhythms and limitations of place and in the hands of community. Gathering wool for spinning can be one step in that process; utilizing the “waste” wool for other projects on site yet another.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 67