« ? KiwiBlogs # »

« ? ScorpioBlogs # »

Join | Random | List

Subscribe to "CoffeeWaffle" in Radio UserLand.

Click to see the XML version of this web page.

Email Me
Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.





  Tuesday, 29 November 2005

This is one of those posts that I'm not even sure I'll publish. I'm in one of those moods where I just want to pour it all out, but I'm not sure what will come out. Know what I mean? So I'm typing this in notepad (because it could take a while) and I'll see how I feel about it when I'm done.

I take myself and my writing too seriously sometimes. I know I do, but I do it anyway. I think I'd rather be in this passionate, intense mental space than reduce my thoughts, and writings to everyday small-talk. I don't do small-talk. I just don't see the point. Trouble is, I often take things too personally, or passionately, and end up biting someones head off for what they probably meant as a lighthearted remark.  Or if I don't bite their head off, I bottle it up and stew.

I've been stewing about this site for a while now. I've been considering reducing it to a simple photo-blog and keeping my ramblings about more serious stuff to myself. I probably won't... but I've been considering it. Why? For the sake of my own mental health.

One of the reasons I started CoffeeWaffle, over three years ago now, was to force myself to come 'out of my shell' a bit. I have always been an intensely private person. When you were a child, did you ever try to picture your adult self? Wonder what you would be like when you were all grown up? Where you would be living, and what you would be doing. I did, often, and I always pictured myself as a hermit. Perhaps a lighthouse keeper, or some similar profession that meant living alone. I would have a dog, but no family around me. I never pictured myself married, or with children. I never imagined I'd be famous, or have heaps of friends. I would always see myself living on my own, a long way from 'civilisation', existing in a self-sufficient way, very rarely coming into contact with other people. That is the way I wanted it to be; that is what I hoped for as a child. Funny how things turn out a lot like we expect.

OK I'm not a lighthouse keeper but I'd still really like to be one. Its not that I'm antisocial, at least I don't think so. I don't dislike other people, I have just never craved their company. I don't get lonely, at least not in the way other people seem to. I recall times when I was a fisherman for a living, sitting alone in the wheelhouse while the rest of the crew slept, staring at the petrels and mollyhawks riding the wind behind the boat, imagining I was the only soul aboard, and thinking that if these birds were the only company I ever had, it would be enough. So starting a weblog with the intention of putting my personal thoughts on it for all the world to see, was really a way for me to challenge myself. It was a means to stretch my comfort zone so to speak. It took a while, but it has certainly done that (and will continue to as long as I'm up for it).

I am still learning to not take it too seriously though. My last post, for example, was a link to something that really touched me. It struck a resonating chord with me and I somehow assumed it would affect others in the same way. I felt for the author. When he wrote "My soul aches for the hurt of Earth" I knew exactly what he meant. When he asked, "I hug trees and I feel the spirits of wind and wave and air and rock. Am I crazy?", I felt an empathy as if they were my own words. That is why I posted that link. I thought others would feel the same way. When I posed the question "have you ever felt alienated by the culture you find yourself in?", I did so because I feel like that all the time and I honestly wonder if others do too. Then came the first comment. I felt like I was being laughed at. It blew me away. It shouldn't have, but it did. I felt naive. I felt stupid for thinking that everyone else would relate in the way I did. I reacted badly. Instead of just brushing it off, I searched desperately for a rebuttal. I spent time and energy stewing about it. I've spent the day with questions bouncing around my head like, "how can people be so unfeeling?", and "why can they not see what is so obvious to me?", and "am I out of touch with reality, or are they?". I've felt angry because someone had trampled on my illusion. I know I shouldn't. Now I'm kicking myself for taking it so seriously. I don't know why it surprised me so.

This is not the only time I've felt like this after writing about these subjects here. Recently a friend commented that I sounded like Chicken Little running to tell the king that the sky is falling, after I made a post about peak oil. This came from someone I know well and consider a good friend. Because I know them so well I should have realised that he was just having a lighthearted dig at me, and meant nothing by it. Again I reacted badly as if it was a personal attack, only realising after snapping back at him, that he was probably just winding me up in fun.

As a result, I have been wondering if I should just stop talking about these things. Just stick to the photography, then the comments will just be the "oh, thats lovely", or "beautiful", or "I must visit NZ sometime" type of comments. Just post a few stolen quotes and silly little "which super-hero are you" quiz links. Or maybe I should just turn off the comments altogether and pretend its just a personal dairy that no one else reads. But then I think of all the incredible friends I have made through this site, and realise they are why I still do this. They are what keeps me going. I don't want to tone down what I write, but I if I'm going to write in a public forum like this, if got to find a way of 'detaching' a little.

But I am afraid that if I do 'detach' from what I write, that somehow it will cease to be honest. In reality I'd like to write more about the environment, spirituality, human nature, war, peace, love, right and wrong... but this is a long road and I travel slowly. I am very guarded about my thoughts on these things, but as I said earlier, that is why I started on this road to begin with. I knew I would find this difficult, but I know it is good for my soul... in the long run.

I feel better already.

9:53:43 PM    Comment []

  Sunday, 27 November 2005

"Insanity is when we keep doing the same thing and keep expecting different results"
Albert Einstein

Have you ever felt like the world has gone mad? Ever felt alienated by the culture you find yourself in? Have you wondered why the human race tries to set itself apart from nature, denies its place in it, and acts as if the environment, and all the other species in it, are only there for us to exploit? I know I have. Why can we not see that the planet is dying? Why do we pathologically deny our part in the 500+ species that are driven to extinction every day? We are systematically destroying our own life support system, our ecoshpere, and yet we are totally detached from this reality. Why? Perhaps it is because we are sick. Maybe we all collectively suffer from the same mental illness characterised by the pathological denial of the damage we are causing.

In this brilliant paper by Robin van Tine, Ph.D., this illness is given a name. It is Gaeaphobia, and its symptoms are undeniable...

9:26:57 PM    Comment []

  Saturday, 26 November 2005

Remember that pair of Californian Quail that have taken a liking to my garden? Well they're still around and they're a lot less shy these days. Each time I see them they seem to allow me closer than the time before. This morning they were right by my front step and were quite happy to have their pictures taken while Kaycee lay sleeping in the grass less then six feet away. Neither seemed bothered by the others presence. I managed to get much closer for photos than I did last time. Even though the females colours are more neutral than the males, she is just as beautiful when you get close enough to see all the details of her plumage...

The male sat on a branch of the almond tree nearby, just watching me and chirping occasionally to his mate, presumably warning her of my presence.

When I looked even closer, right there beside Mum's tail-feather, perfectly camouflaged, was the latest addition to the family.

2:06:41 PM    Comment []

  Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Its really summer now. My strawberries are in full swing. This some of today's pick. In a couple of days, I'll pick again... and a few days after that... another handfull...

I'll be eating these ones on my cereal tomorrow. Strawberries for breakfast just feels like starting the day right.

9:02:22 PM    Comment []

  Sunday, 20 November 2005

It's about time for another garden update. I'm actually eating fresh garden vegetables every day now. So I've harvested 2 lettuce, heaps of spring onions, lots of silver beet, chinese cabbage (although most of these went straight to seed, they're more of a winter crop I think), and about a dozen fat strawberries. As you can see by the photo above the broadbeans are a success and are almost ready to be picked. The next lot of beans are already under way; runner beans this time (below)...

I've got about a dozen garlic cloves growing (above left) and 6 celery (right). Both have done well and are ready to harvest very soon.

Clockwise from above left: Atlantic pumpkin, first brocoli, baby cucumber, and one of 21 sweet corn plants I planted out yesterday.

Looking forward to a bumper crop of tomatos. I've got 6 plants like this one. They're just begining to get a touch of red on the bigger ones. I considering trying fried green tomatoes just to see what all the fuss is about.

7:04:50 PM    Comment []

(click for 1024x768 desktop wallpaper)

11:06:45 AM    Comment []

  Thursday, 17 November 2005

I was in the Trade Aid Shop last week, buying gifts, when I spotted a few didgeridoo leaning in the corner. Some of you may remember I bought a genuine Australian, termite hollowed, hardwood didge earlier this year. It's a beautiful instrument and I've been teaching myself to play it ever since.

I'd been wanting to try a bamboo didgeridoo, just to see what the difference in sound is like. Most didge players say there's nothing like the sound of a genuine Aussie hardwood didge. I've heard others say that a cheap bamboo didge is easier to play and learn on. So I tried the various bamboo didgeridoo in the corner of the Trade Aid shop (to the delight of the two ladies behind the counter) and decided they are both right. The bamboo didgeridoo does sound quite different, but is still a lot of fun to play. I ended up buying this one...

The bamboo didge is a bit shorter, has a much lighter sound, and does seem a little easier to play. It doesn't take as much breath to hold a drone, so I have more 'lung power' left to try new sounds. However, it really doesn't quite resonate with the same deep richness of the hardwood didge, but it did only cost about 10% of the price. So now I find myself trying new things with the bamboo didge, learning the basic technique for a new sound, then transferring that learning to the hardwood didge.

Here's a little sample of the sound of each didge. (if there's any 'real' didge players reading, no laughing, OK?).

(In case you're wondering, I made those sounds bites through the tiny little microphone on the front of this laptop using a great little piece of 'slimware' called Audacity. I highly recommend this program for any tooling around with sound you want to do. Only 2.4mb to download, fast, incredibly easy to use, and best of all, its free and open source. Try it!)

9:50:34 PM    Comment []

  Wednesday, 16 November 2005

I know I just posted a shot of Kereru (NZ native pigeon) a few days ago, but I just don't tire of watching these birds. There's quite a few around the valley at the moment too. It occured to me today, as I was taking these shots, that I live in a house that most bird watching enthusiasts would adore. I was standing in my bathroom at the time, watching this guy stuff his face with the tender new shoots of the tree lucern by my back door.

9:30:58 PM    Comment []

"It always seemed strange to me that the things we admire in people, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self interest are the traits of success.
And while people admire the quality of the first, they LOVE the produce of the second."
John Steinbeck

9:13:06 AM    Comment []

  Sunday, 13 November 2005

(Click for 1024x768 desktop wallpaper)

1:48:03 PM    Comment []

I came across this inspiring article this morning. It's always nice to read that others around the world are also preparing for a future without cheap energy. The actions talked about in this article are just the sort of thing our peak oil group here in Nelson are doing. These groups may be small in numbers now, but they are growing. Pretty soon we may not feel like the outsiders anymore...

Oh and BTW the New Zealand branch of the ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil) is going to have its inaugural meeting this coming week.

Diet for a Peak-Oil America: Weaning the food
system from fossil fuels one community at a time

by Katie Elizabeth Renz

How much oatmeal would it take to feed ten backpackers a week’s worth of breakfasts?

A pretty mundane question. But for Jason Bradford, recollections of planning for "X number of meals" from his days leading research expeditions in the rainforest proved the inspiration for his Food Security Worksheet, a potentially groundbreaking document looking at peak oil and the food system.

'Peak oil' refers to the point at which half of the theoretically-available oil has been extracted, predicted by some analysts to occur around Thanksgiving 2005.

Bradford's worksheet considers the annual food needs of the greater Willits population, about 13,000 people living along the redwood-ribbon Highway 101. From there, he figures the number of acres required to feed those people–sustainably–based on current local farming examples. His food plan is part of a burgeoning trend around the globe, especially strong in northern Californian communities, to prepare for growing, processing, packaging, distributing, storing, and cooking food in an upcoming era without cheap fossil fuels.

With each calorie of food consumed, the average American also 'eats' slightly more than ten calories of fossil fuel energy, says David Pimentel, a professor of Ecology and Agricultural Sciences at Cornell University who has studied the link between agriculture and energy consumption since the energy crisis of 1973.

From fossil-fuel-based fertilizers to transporting food an average 1,500 miles from soil to plate, the modern food system accounts for 17 percent of domestic energy use, Pimentel says. According to his figures, "just a hair over one gallon" of gasoline goes into producing, baking, and distributing one loaf of bread.

If we want to eat, and do it well, argue the 'post-carbon' or 're-localization' groups, the familiar scenario of driving to the supermarket—where industrial refrigerators hum under florescent lights and one can buy anything, any season, be it an organic Chilean mango or a sirloin steak—will have to shift in favor of local, labor-intensive agriculture and grocery stores within walking distance.

Bradford says, "Everything’s going to have to change." Late last year, he founded WELL, the Willits Economics Localization project, to jumpstart this wholesale transition around energy, shelter, transportation, health and, of course, food.

Creating the Food Security Worksheet was easy, he says, since he decided to start from a personal, how-much-oatmeal-will-we-need perspective. Once he got an idea of how calories translate into food items, he saw that he had the basic information necessary to understand how much arable land a region requires to be calorically self-sufficient.

"All it takes is someone who can do simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and maybe some simple algebra, and they can run through those numbers for their community," Bradford says, insisting that the hardest aspect of this work-in-progress study was figuring out where to find the information.

His right-hand source was John Jeavons' book, How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine, the bible of the author's expertise, GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farming. Not only does it list the caloric counts for a diversity of crops, but the book also contains exercises to determine how to design and grow a diet appropriate to one's region.

"I'm not going to be having coconut milk in my Thai stir fry because I'm in Willits now, and I'm designing for a Willits diet," Bradford remembers realizing. "Then you start thinking, 'What can I grow here, and in what proportion should I put it in my garden to meet my diet needs?'"

He also found U.S. census data invaluable in calculating how many people would be reliant upon a given foodshed; the Mendocino County Agricultural Commission Office was helpful in finding data about historic crop yields, the best indicators of pre-Green Revolution production levels.

His next step on the continually progressing Worksheet is talking to local farmers to learn who grows what, attempting to answer the ultimate question: Could it be enough?

Bradford says the most dramatic change within the food system is that more people will have to be involved in producing food.

"John Jeavons has this great expression; it’s somewhat tongue and cheek. He goes, 'Listen, I’m not saying everyone has to be a farmer. Only those who want to eat'," he laughs.

It might be difficult to turn a nation of stockbrokers and couch potatoes into potato farmers and soil tillers, but Jeavons says cultivable land wouldn't be a limitation. "Sim van der Ryn [California Director of Appropriate Technology under former Governor Jerry Brown] has said–back in the late '70s or early '80s–that if GROW BIOINTENSIVE yields could be maintained, then it would have been possible to grow all the food for the U.S.–given the diets of the time–on just the lawns, golf courses, and cemeteries of the country."

Though Jeavons concedes that growing food atop graves may not be the best approach (great fertilizer, though), he says, "The idea is that we have the potential for a lot more local food production than we perhaps think."

At least 25 residents of Laytonville, population 1,300, are well aware of this abundance of agricultural possibilities. And, like their neighbors 20 miles south in Willits, they are starting to reorganize the food system–a bit differently, however.

"Nobody [in Laytonville] is interested in assessing," says Linnea Due, a magazine editor who hosted the first meeting of the food committee in her strawbale home. "Everybody wants to act. I think there’s a real advantage to both approaches," she said, adding that an inventory of local food resources similar to the Willits worksheet will likely come later.

Due remembers that the premier gathering was incredibly fruitful. "We formed seven subgroups, came up with four workshop ideas and three field trips," she says. "I mean, that’s amazing."

She lists some of the subcommittees: saving seeds, livestock and grain raising, growing food year round. One canning workshop has already happened, and a field trip was recently taken to Jeavons’ mini-farm. Both attracted about 30 participants. A fruit-tree grafting workshop is planned for February, and a community kitchen–an up-to-code, fully-stocked space in which members could prepare food products in mass quantities and for possible sale–is in the works.

The Laytonville group also organized a potluck. But it was hardly your ordinary, honey-what's-in-the-fridge collection of random dishes. Instead, they opted for a quintessentially bioregional feast in which all ingredients had to be grown within 100 miles. Due was excited to try the various root-vegetable concoctions, garden-grown salads, feta cheese from local goats, and even an acorn pate. "The thing that people were totally blown away by was these baynuts," she says. "They were roasted, and they tasted exactly like chocolate truffles."

The peak-oil-inspired potluck was so successful that they've decided to make it a quarterly celebration, a chance to get acquainted with the seasonal variation inherent in non-fossil-fuel-based agricultural production.

Such re-localization efforts demonstrate that, with enough awareness, communities can come up with creative solutions before some fear-laden, apocalyptic scenario becomes inevitable. But will we awake from what Bradford calls the 'peak-oil siesta' in time to still have full bellies and satisfied tastebuds?

Pam Leitch of Oregon's Portland Permaculture Institute has put on peak oil meetings to audiences of 50 to 100 people for the past four months.

"I think the most common reaction amongst the general public is that there will be a technological solution. That somebody, somewhere, will fix it, which is a form of denial," she says. "More and more people will become aware as gas prices, and then food prices, start making them...a lot more receptive to attempting to find solutions," Leitch maintains, predicting that food prices will begin to reflect the recent tripling in fertilizer costs and higher diesel prices by as early as next spring.

As for any action on the federal level, most peak-oil patriots are hardly optimistic, choosing to focus on the intensely local rather than hold out for national policy to address the issue.

"It almost seems it's going to have to be a bottom-up thing rather than a top-down thing," says Janet Larsen, a research associate with the Washington, D.C.-based Earth Policy Institute. Municipal governments may be an accessible entry point into beyond-neighborhood-level politics, and local politicians are increasingly taking action. The Mayor of Sebastopol, Larry Robinson [see his interview in this issue], hopes to have commissions formed by the new year to explore how the city can best prepare for peak oil, including ensuring a steady food supply [see the interview with him in this issue]. Portland has had a Food Policy Council since 2002, joining with nonprofits to eventually create a network of urban farms. And in Oakland, California, Mayor Jerry Brown is debating an initiative mandating that 40 percent of the vegetables consumed in the city be grown within a 50-mile radius of its center by 2015.

Up in Willits, where both City Council members and several businesses support WELL's goals, Bradford is focusing on making local food production visible. He asked the local elementary school if they could convert part of the playground into a school farm to provide produce for cafeteria lunches and an opportunity for kids to be involved in the food cycle. (Officials gave an enthusiastic "yes.") Most of the people working on making Willits the first rural community with a hospital garden to help feed employees and patients are also part of WELL.

"It's amazing how rapidly cultures shift when the natural conditions make it necessary," Bradford says, glimpsing the future in 8-year-old kids with schoolyard gardens who know how to grow—and like to eat—highly-nutritious crops like kale and amaranth that are virtually unknown to most Americans.

"I'm hoping people see all the benefits," he continues. "People freak out about these issues. The key is, 'No, we're responsible adults; we can think and plan rationally'."

Bradford believes it's about achieving critical mass and that progressive enclaves like Willits and Laytonville exemplify how any community can prepare to eat well sans fossil fuels.

"We don't have to get everybody on board," he says. "But we need to reach some sort of point where enough people see, 'Wow, you’re doing that!? Why aren't we doing it here too?'."

Katie Elizabeth is jolted from peak-oil nightmares and sustainable dreams by phantom pebbles at her window...Her brows furrow: Will organic pineapple juice be locally produced by the time everyone comes to their senses? She can be reached at

9:37:51 AM    Comment []

  Saturday, 12 November 2005

(Click for 1024x768 desktop wallpaper)

10:36:09 PM    Comment []

(Click for 1024x768 desktop wallpaper)

5:03:04 PM    Comment []

  Thursday, 10 November 2005

Today was one of those days when nothing could bring me down. Not even a head wind for the cycle ride home; it just gave me a chance to write some poems in my head as I rode. I wish I knew what is was that put me in such a good mood today. I'd go out and earn myself a tonne of it.

It was a friend and co-worker's last day at work today, before leaving for another country. I'm crap at goodbye's until after they're gone. Marian, I wrote this for you. Bon voyage.


I saw three sparrows today
they shared my kebab
I couldn't refuse them,
they asked so politely

They were not the same
when we'd shared a while
I began to recognise each
their face, their feathers, their moves

I wonder if they recognise me now.

I saw sweet peas in a roadside ditch
full of colour and song
they travelled with me a while
where they could not be seen from the road

I saw a White-faced Heron today
I saw a man speaking with it
the bird did not answer
but I know it understood
from somewhere beyond what we call understanding

I saw dragon flies darting and hovering
across the water together
at first just two, but more as I lingered

they were there when I was not watching too

6:12:48 PM    Comment []

  Tuesday, 8 November 2005

It was my birthday yesterday. 34.... feels a lot like 33 :)

Whatever you do, don't sing "Happy Birthday". You could get done for copyright infringement. Seriously. According to (found on Stan's site), the copyright to "Happy Birthday" is owned and actively enforced by Time Warner.

9:46:13 PM    Comment []

  Sunday, 6 November 2005

This afternoon, under grey skies that were threatening to rain, my friend Devon and I rode our mountain bikes up Teal Valley (where I live), to the top of the Teal Saddle, over into the Maitai Valley, then followed the Maitai River down into the centre of Nelson City. Most of the ride up is on gravel roads used only by the forestry industry to harvest their pines, while the ride down the Maitai valley is mostly a well used public walking track.

From the Teal saddle you can look North down Teal Valley (above), or South over the Maitai reservoir, which is where much of Nelson's water supply comes from (below).

This is Sunday Hole, one of the best swimming holes around. The whole valley is forty shades of green right now with all the warm spring weather we've been enjoying.

10:59:05 PM    Comment []

  Saturday, 5 November 2005

(click for 1024x768 desktop wallpaper)

10:44:47 PM    Comment []

  Thursday, 3 November 2005

I enjoy a lot of movies. I rarely write movie reviews. Earlier this week I made one of my regular visits to the video shop to buy a couple of ex-rental tapes to add to my growing collection. This time I happened to pick out (quite by chance) a couple of remarkable films.

First was Clint Eastwood's latest production, Million Dollar Baby. I enjoy a good sports movie as much as the next guy and on the surface this seems to be a well crafted, well acted boxing flick. Don't be put off thought if thats not the type of movie you enjoy. This masterpiece goes far beyond that genre, and is more than it seems to be. The acting was top notch with what I thought was a particularly natural performance by Hilary Swank. I really enjoyed the interaction between Clint Eastwood's and Morgan Freeman's characters which at times was hilarious and gave the movie a much needed lighter side (especially the scene about the holy socks... classic). I can't tell you too much about the plot without spoiling it but I found it to be anything but predictable. Well worth watching.

The second movie I'm going to recommend was a real surprise. Initially I picked it up because it was set and filmed in New Zealand and I like to support local cinema. It turned out to be one of the most poignant, and gripping movies I think I have ever watched. In My Father's Den is a must see. Don't be fooled by the cover. This movie does nothing to build itself up, but slowly and surely draws you into an intricately woven plot until you find yourself totally absorbed in the lives and challenges of each and every one of the characters. It is about facing the demons of the past, and the innocence of youth meeting the harsh reality of the world. This is not light viewing. I still have a lump in my throat. This movie is nothing short of extraordinary. Watch it.


10:15:11 PM    Comment []

Click here to visit the Radio UserLand website. © Copyright 2009 Murray Neill .
Last update: 17/02/2009; 9:11:51 p.m. .