Friday, July 9, 2010

The Devil and I

It happens all the time.  In conversation, I bring up my plans or goals for minimizing our use of fossil fuels, though I oftentimes wonder why after I've done it.  A skeptic, with a wry twinkle in his eye, says something like "I think you'll really learn to appreciate that <insert any fossil-fueled machine> once you try using a <insert non-fossil fueled equivalent here>."

I think to myself, "Yes, but if we all keep using <insert fossil-fueled machine>, I can kiss my kid's future goodbye.  Thanks for your concern, a--hole!"

In most cases, the "skeptic" is absolutely right.  Using the fossil fueled machine is almost *always* much easier, more effective, more fun, more productive, quicker, safer, and cheaper (at least for now) than the human or animal powered equivalent.  I must be naive to embark on a quixotic quest to avoid them.

So why does this skeptic, and the vast majority of humanity, effectively place their money on anything that uses fossil fuel, when they know what the consequences of that use are?  I think we're in denial.  We're in denial so deep that we refuse to even consider the consequences of our actions.  If we've ever dared to glimpse at the future we know is coming, we shut the door on that thought and throw away the key.  It's a wonderful human survival trait -- this ability to ignore unpleasant images of your own future and hope they never arrive.  Occasionally, we get lucky.  Time takes a turn, and the unpleasant situation is averted.  Then again, ignoring a problem often makes it much worse.

The thing is, I'm one of these skeptics as well.  My problem is that I don't have the ability to forget or deny the consequences of my actions after I've been made aware of them.  I simply can't shrug off the fact that my use of fossil fuels is destroying not only my son's future, but the world I live in here and now.  Even so, I'll probably still be one of the fossil-fuelaholics for quite a while to come.  But I do plan to fight my addiction, for better or worse.  I'll be like the smoker who has quit cigarettes on several occasions.

The differences between fossil fueled machines and the alternatives are really dramatic.  One gallon of gasoline can produce the equivalent amount of work as a person working for three weeks, in one figure I read.  For $2.85 (or about 20 minutes of work at a modestly paid job), I can buy three weeks of work.  What a deal!  It would seem there is a point at which the deal is so incredibly good that it makes sense to just say "Screw the future -- I'm gonna burn me some gasoline!"  Would you sell your soul to the devil if he made you a deal you can't refuse?   It seems most of us already have.  Is it ever a good deal, too!  Heck, if the devil never sweetened the pot, nobody would ever deal with him.

This Fourth of July weekend was one of those times when the deals were just too good to pass up.  For the devil and I, that is.  This was the weekend we put up our second cutting of hay.

It started out well.  Saturday morning, I tedded (that's basically stirring up your hay so it dries faster) one field and raked the second, both done with the horses.  Saturday afternoon, I helped out with our neighbors who were baling one of the fields for us.   I simply don't have the time to get everything done myself with horses, so this was a concession to the devil.  It does beat the alternative of buying hay, since at least some of the work done on this hay was fossil fuel-free. 

Sunday was to be a busy day.  Started out with raking the remaining hayfield into windrows, and then continued with loading the wagon using the hayloader, all done with the horses.  It was hot -- about 90 degrees.  Squadrons of horseflies were out on patrol.  The filtered sunlight seemed to have an orange glow that accentuated the heat.  Doc (one of the draft horses on our team) got pissy and started backing up when he wasn't supposed to, jack-knifing the forecart against the hay wagon while Rachel had the lines. 

We got him calmed down, but the little shot of adrenaline didn't really help out after I'd already spent hours in the hot sun.  After we brought the first wagonload back to the barn, I tied the horses up to a convenient light pole in our yard, still hitched to the forecart.  Something (probably another horsefly) got Doc excited again, so he started running around the pole, dragging the forecart and wrapping the halter ropes for both horses around the pole in a big mess.  So I decided to give them a rest.  That means unhitching each of them, taking off lines and halters, and bringing them in the barn so they could sit at a tie-stall and eat some hay, and then repeating the process in reverse.  That adds another half hour of work to the operation. 

Next, I messed up the grapples as I set them into the hay for unloading.  Everything looked fine, until the trolley was up at the peak of the barn roof, but the trip line wouldn't budge.  We had to bring the hay back down to the wagon to reset everything.  I discovered three unique ways to mess up the grapples, each time requiring a re-do.

After two wagon loads of hay put up with the horses (with three remaining in the field), I was absolutely shot.  Rain appeared in the forecast for the evening, just to make my day a little better.  A quick shower came through, but not enough to hurt the hay.  Knowing that Rachel was only in slightly better shape than I was, I decided to follow her suggestion to use the tractor for the third load.  It was a life-saver.  No time spent to harness up, no need to babysit it, and it didn't get scared by the "BIG SCARY HAY LOADER" the way Doc did when I walked him past it earlier in the day.

I figured that if I was going to make a deal with the devil, I might as well go for the deluxe package. So we used our Honda (a Honda Element) to pull the hay rope. But I didn't just use it to pull the hay rope. It had other fossil fueled amenities that I could partake of, which I did with great zeal. I had that AC cranked on full. Boy did it feel great.

We finished out the remaining two loads the next day using the tractor instead of the horses.  Just avoiding harnessing time saved an hour right off the bat.  Boy, is that tractor a neat tool.  Thank you, Mr. Devil. 


Anonymous said...

I would just say I was feeling swell reading this while eating my homemade sourdough (fired in our outdoor wood oven) topped with my own goat's herbed chevre...but I do realize that though the wheat was grown in MI and the goat's grains were grown and ground here too I did rely on the fridge to cool the cheese. Sigh.

It's hard to make an end run around this first-world way of life. But one can take steps, and one should not be immune to some comforts, like that A/C in your car.

David Veale said...

Hi El! Extricating ourselves from fossil fueled lifestyles in a society that's based on nothing but isn't easy, that's for sure. Just keep hacking away, I guess.

BTW -- nice outdoor kitchen! We're quite envious -- might have to copy you on that. It would make having a woodstove in the indoor kitchen much more bearable in summer (that's on our list too, not done just yet)

Birgit said...

Enjoy your posts, they are always well thought out and interesting. Since you're in SW lower Michigan, you should really check out Tillers, International in Scotts. They do a lot with animal power and appropriate technology. Richard Heinberg is speaking at their harvest festival in September.

David Veale said...

Tillers is amazing! I took their farming with draft horses class, which is what got me going with our horses. Rachel has taken one of their spinning classes too.

Am really looking forward to hearing Heinberg at their upcoming harvest fest; for all the good stuff they do, I haven't until now seen energy issues placed so much at the forefront. I read two of his books -- The Party's Over and Power Down -- both of which were real eye openers for me.