It’s March 2nd at 4:00am PST and I’m writing this blog from the basement of a 2700 sq ft house. The outside thermometer reads 10o which means inside in living room with its gaping 1970’s style A frame ceiling the temperature will be 55o. An architect built this add on to his mother’s 1928 home as a present for her, so she would have more space and light and be able to entertain her friends in a brand new respectable home her guests would talk about after they left.

Haven’t we all done that or a least wished for a larger, grander abode outfitted with the latest and greatest chachkas to show others that we really do have the means to exhibit our taste and style for beauty and comfort? We want to believe that we have arrived.

It was right around the time this house was redesigned that peak oil (pique oil) came and went with a whisper – completely unrecognized for what it was – but for that nasty incident in the late 70’s of a temporary US oil shortage and all the accompanying media (that ate it up for what it wasn’t, big bad OPEC and a few stabbings on the Jersey gas lines) coverage resulting in summarily ousting then president Jimmy Carter.

In 1980 we had a brand new President with bold new visions to buoy us up into the hopeful new future. As a nation we were going to be fine and despite the first hiccups of ugly interest rates and a troubled housing market, we were told and chose to believe, it was just a matter of rearranging the economic approach to solve those present dilemmas.

In the following two decades I rearranged some things myself and got into the real estate market as a real estate investor choosing to believe the Horatio Alger story and recognizing all I had to do was pull myself up by the bootstraps, work hard, be smart and take advantage of the abundance life in the most powerful country on earth could afford me.

Drinking the Kool Aid

Drinking the Kool Aid

Building an A frame style home, in a windswept freezing cold area that never delivers the snow load to justify it in the first place, is stupid. Adding a shiny new oil heater to keep the house warm is even dumber, but here we are, the reluctant recipients of an oil glut relic gone by. That same oil heater was used only twice by the latest owner (Will Kearns) and quietly put to rest as a symbol of the past, usurped by the wood stove and large solar arrays installed one year later. Recently a rather loud and annoying stylish pellet stove has been added in the living room but its days are numbered for a whole host of reasons.

How many of us have heard friends or family groan about couple’s counseling and how much work it takes to be in a relationship? Awareness is the same. No one’s going to hand out awareness like a party favor – you’re gonna have to work for it especially in a society with a penchant for distraction and ‘look over there’ techniques delivered for free every day courtesy of that quacking box you so proudly own. That subject and thus separate blog will have to wait for another time.

Thirty some odd years later we’re finding it hard to cheat the basic laws of thermodynamics. Especially as they relate to our fantasy world of GDP economics and perpetual growth. We have discovered ourselves in the petri dish of a finite world, little yeasts just beginning to feel the itch that something is amiss and hasn’t gone just right. Thank God we can still continue to distract ourselves (if we chose) with the latest I Pad, new age The Secret thinking, doom and gloom scenarios of zombies, the second coming and Facebook. And when that doesn’t work we can always blame someone else for the uncomfortable position we’ve found ourselves in.

It takes effort to stand on the very fringes of society, dare to look back and inward into the fish bowl and experience the cognitive dissonance that occurs. Often it is a very lonely place to be.  Luckily there are some really tenacious weirdoes out there in the darkness flinging around a light inviting us to come have a look and their numbers seem to be growing in this new era of austerity and crappy economies.

cartoon_economic_growth_boat_waterfall_2013

 

When I sold my first two properties and bought five rentals I expected the only hitch to be shortcomings in my own understandings of how this sort of thing penciled out. I dutifully studied the entire gamut of variables that could affect the outcome; taxes, leases, location, contracts, loans, management, landscaping, repair costs…everything or so I thought. Then the proverbial shit hit the fan with all its unseen consequences; massive job loss, ensuing divorces from stress, new home gluts on the market, inability of municipalities to create new jobs for potential renters and my own career track being stinted all amounted to the great American vanishing of the middle class.

For Sale - $1

For Sale – $1

Now for all of my educational background in Environmental Sciences, natural systems, indigenous philosophy and human behavior I should have known better. Choosing not to be a victim and electing for awareness instead – a very interesting thing happened in the ensuing years between 2010 and 2012. Over and over persons in the accounts receivables departments, with whom I was negotiating during the downhill slide into financial oblivion, told me their personal stories of decline and defeat. At one point the receptionist at the local unemployment office leaned towards me and said quietly “I don’t know how we can help you because every day we’re not sure we will still have a job due to funding cuts”. Ok, wow.

squirrel buddha photo

 

Yee Ha the party’s over. All those weirdoes are starting to make sense; the transition towns, slow food movements, locavores, Ithaca money, survivalists, and the one I’m writing to now – alternative builders. Mike Reynolds, the designer of the earth ship, has been sued, punched in the face, lost his license, suffered numerous character attacks and has received very little if any support from the old capitalist guard peers of his age. He has tenaciously transitioned through the dying generation “in group” of business as usual golf course buddy culture into the arms of the emerging WTF thanks a pant load for the horrific set of problems you’ve cast off  for us to clean up generation.

How appropriate that I’m penning this blog from the basement where the temperature stays a nearly constant 55o-60o (all year long)  to write about the inefficiency of the modern home. Mike Reynold’s basic contention is why do we insist upon debting ourselves into homes only to incur more debt forever to the utility companies to heat and cool our dwellings when we don’t have to? Reynolds isn’t some nutcase and is backed up by Mollison on page 19 where he writes “It has long been apparent that this condition is deliberately and artificially maintained by utilities, bureaucracies, and governments who are composed of those so dependent on the consumption and sale of energy resources that without this continuing exploitation they themselves would perish.”

Making this transition wasn’t easy and for those of us who’ve tried it can attest to the fact that it plays very heavily on the ego not in a good way. Acknowledging this heady exciting new fringe stuff is one thing, putting it into practice and living it every day is another and can be extremely uncomfortable. For one, diving into the crevices of poverty is so not de rigueur that your friends start acting like it’s something they might catch and begin making distance. Secondly in a society that judges one another’s insides by their outsides it can be humbling and unnerving like being the guy at the party who just ran out of blow and it’s only 8 o’clock.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I lost everything, all the rentals, the job and all the bling that goes with it. Change doesn’t happen overnight well I suppose that’s true unless you’re on the wrong end of the stick in which case it can feel like it does. Wasn’t it just the other day I was staging a 12 million dollar home and shopping at Nordstrom’s? Some of you know what I’m talking about – especially the women when I say I’ve been cutting my hair with kitchen shears for three years now.

It can get pretty depressing.

It can get pretty depressing.

The sting of perception can come home to roost in a very ugly way “whether your right or wrong it’s true” from the Tony Robins Awaken the Giant Within tapes I doggedly devoured during my past life as a RE investor. It’s these same perceptions uttered by guests who visit and remark “when are you going to Foo Foo your flooring, counter tops or take that wall out?”. The answer is we’re not. This is because no amount of money thrown at this inefficient behemoth will ever make it right. It will always remain inefficient, as every conventional house that has ever been constructed in the last three hundred years in North America, is. It will remain exactly more or less what it is now; a meeting place to exchange ideas, propagate cuttings, sort seeds, prepare meals, sleep, and research information in order to design a new model for living.

This place has become a base camp from which we seek to understand our place in the Universe, concomitantly the Earth and strive to work with nature not against it. That’s why some future blog will be about Mike Reynolds, Paul Wheaton,  Earthships and Wofatis (respectively) – already built – and the people who build them.