Friday, April 27, 2012

The Tree Speaks

Man is the tool of the Creator and creation.  Man can help nature do what would otherwise take many years.  Man belongs to the earth and the earth belongs to man. -- Coyote Thunder, in Tom Brown's "Grandfather".

Since today is National Arbor Day, I thought we should hear from a tree.  Okay, it's not really a tree speaking, it's a story of a dream and a lesson that Tom Brown's "Grandfather" experienced.  I am, of course, paraphrasing to condense it, but it really is a wonderful read; I hope you take the time to do so.


Grandfather fell asleep under a very large, old tree.  He had a nightmare that a horde of people came to destroy the tree.  Nothing Grandfather did could stop the onslaught.  Eventually the tree died in agony.

When Grandfather awoke screaming, he was relieved to see the tree still strong and healthy.  He did begin to wonder if he truly was any better than the hordes.  True, he did have reverence for the tree, and all living things, but he still depended on killing things for his survival.

One of his elders, Coyote Thunder, came to Grandfather and knew what was wrong without Grandfather having to explain.  He took Grandfather to a remote mountain gorge.  As they walked silently through it, Grandfather noticed that on one side of the stream, the forest was strong and healthy, but on the other side, the trees were twisted and diseased.  He could see no reason why the two sides could be so different.  Finally, seeing Grandfather's perplexed look, Coyote Thunder explained that he was the difference.  He took care of the strong, healthy forest, even as he fulfilled his needs.  The key was that he always considered what the forest needed first.  Then he only took what was a hindrance to the forest.


No matter whether we are in a forest, a garden, or anywhere else, learning to give as we take, considering the needs of everything as well as our own, will help us regenerate the world so we can all continue on the Long Ascent.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Little Blue Ball

"The only real recourse is for each of us to realize that the elements we have are not inexhaustible. We’re all in the same spaceship." -- Frank Borman, commander of Apollo 8 

As people get ready to celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd, I want to remind you of a famous picture:

I think it no coincidence that the first Earth Day was celebrated a mere 16 months after this picture was taken.  I'm not saying that this image itself was the impetus for Earth Day, but images do have power.  The space program gave us a unique viewpoint we never had before.  Our planet is immensely large from our own personal perspective.  Even traveling one quarter of the way around it in a jet airplane feels like a major undertaking.  When looking at a map or a globe, all the details we see make it seem large.  From a spaceship hundreds of thousands of miles away, however, our planet is just a little blue ball hanging in space.  We need to be grateful for the blessing this world is in our otherwise harsh universe.

This perspective is critical to guiding our path on the Long Ascent.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Penny Saved...

... is two or three pre-tax pennies earned.


If you work in the United States, you pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on the very first dollar you earn.  (I'm not well-versed in the tax codes of other countries; some are better, some are worse.)  Your employer pays an equal amount, too, and if you're self-employed, you get to pay both.  That's almost 1/6 of your income off the top, unless you happen to earn more than the cap on Social Security taxes.

Next comes income taxes.  If you're poor, you do get a break.  You can earn almost $10,000 before you start paying federal income taxes.  If you have children, you can do even better through the Earned Income Credit.  But once you start earning more, you can end up paying up to 35% of your income to Uncle Sam.  Add to that state income taxes of up to 11% (for Hawaiians who earn over $200,000).

If you spend what money is left, you may have to pay state and local sales taxes up to 9.45%.  At least you get to see that.  When I was in Poland, the 22% sales tax was included in the sticker price.  Other countries hide their sales taxes as "value-added taxes" that the companies pay.

Of course, part of the money that you pay for stuff you buy goes to other peoples' wages, which gets taxed all over again.  If the money goes to a corporation and generates any profits, they get taxed again; if it pays out a dividend to its stockholders, they get taxed once again on that.

Direct taxes are not the only issue.  Other expenses are involved in having a job, such as commuting and having nice clothes.  I have known several couples where they ended up better off financially when one person quit working and took care of the household.

Cutting expenses by doing more for ourselves will get us further on the Long Ascent.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Language of Patterns

It has been decades since Christopher Alexander wrote A Pattern Language, but it is still a very important book in eco-architecture. While much of the contents are dated, the concept of laying out a system of patterns which build on each other is a very valuable one.  In fact, this has been my archetype for this blog.

This goes far deeper than "Towns, Buildings, Construction," (the subtitle of A Pattern Language). The more famous John Archibald Wheeler, physicist, struggled with the implications of quantum theory.  In particular, there is a relatively famous "double slit" experiment (described in better detail in The Ghost in the Atom) which challenges our notions of reality.  If electrons go through a single slit, they end up in a simple bell-shaped curve.  If they go through two slits, they interfere with each other and create a much more complex pattern.  Where it gets really strange is if they slow down the electrons so only one is going through at a time, the complex pattern is still generated.  The electrons still interfere with each other, even though only one is present at a time.

Cutting to the chase, what this really means is that all our formulas, theories, and laws don't really matter.  All we really have are patterns to recognize and follow.

I will try to be your guide to the patterns you will encounter on the Long Ascent.