Conference Day One

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I was wrong. I can’t get wireless Internet from Hotel Roanoke meeting rooms, so the live twitter and blog entries I’d imagined won’t happen until perhaps Friday afternoon. Ah well.

The first day of the SEJ conference was as full as I’d expected and much less lonely an event. This is a crowd of folks not afraid to look you in the eye and hold out a hand and say “my names is John (or Jane), what’s yours?”

Today, the field trip to Polyface Farm. I’m responsible for posting a blog post on the trip for the SEJ blog (and pix to a Flickr gallery) so will have that done by Saturday morning.

Most memorable yesterday, a must-check-this-out moment was listening to Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute describe the work he and RMI have been doing on composite materials and design for tomorrow’s fuel efficient automobile (that could have been yesterdays’–their innovations are just now starting to get the attention that will get them built in large numbers.)

Also interesting the panel discussion type segment that involved a WVa attorney who has been front and center in litigation against mountaintop removal coal extraction and a representative from one of the large coal companies. The conversation was frank, at times tense, but respectful and professional. I learned a lot.

This is a crappy post. I’m buzzing around thinking ahead to the day to come. So just peek at the recent image above from near home that has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of this post and move on. Back atcha soon. (Sorry–a Palin-ism.) Wink Wink.

Oh yeah: found out yesterday that the SEJ BR Parkway excursion will end up at Hotel Floyd today, so if you see a bus pull into town mid-afternoon, that might be part of the group from Roanoke. Y’all behave when company’s in town.

Closer to the Bone: Less Meat May Be Good Eating

A cock and a hen roosting together.Image via WikipediaI’ve been resisting, but push (that’d be the wife) is coming to shove (that’s me) and we may be keeping chickens again by springtime. Why bother? Because we can, and because we really should–the former is easier to explain.

Our neighbor down the road is making and selling hen houses that are well built, far more secure against chick-and-egg varmints than our barn, and more or less portable for free-range relocation around our pasture. So there’s the how of the poultry enterprise: the task is relatively easily do-able, accessible and affordable.

But the moral and ethical imperatives that lead us toward backyard poultry have to do with bigger issues: eating locally, eating lower on the food chain, and the matter of personal accountability.

We like the idea of eating locally grown meat. We’ve been willing to drive from the eastern to the western ends of the county to get it. But the time-energy-carbon costs are just too high to keep this up. So if we could convert our sunlight and pasture into protein without the drive to Willis, that makes sense.

That we (all of us carnivores) should eat less meat and more locally grown fruits and vegetables is not up for debate in today’s world. The cost in required water, land and energy to produce a pound of beef versus a pound of grain are easy enough to compare, and difficult to ignore in a crowded world. The health impact of too much animal fat in the diet of an obese nation is also an inconvenient truth in the discussion of shoulds and oughts.

Protein’s component amino acids are vital and we can get them from animal or vegetable sources. Globally, far too many humans have too little protein, and baby brains grown without enough in their diet don’t fare so well. To feed the world’s population of 6.7 billion (July 2008 figure), we will need to change both our dietary preferences towards less red meat per capita and our methods of obtaining animal protein overall. (The discussion of more humane husbandry and especially of how many humans is too many for sustainability certainly need to enter the global conversation very soon.)

Add to these thorny issues the fact that, as America (123 kg per person per year meat consumption) and Europe are recognizing the need to eat less meat, those who have never until now been able to afford much meat want much more if it in their diets (read: China, India–5 kg per person per year–and Indonesia). The Big Mac attack is going global–Amazonian rain forests are being converted to pastures to grow more Beijing Burgers.

The solutions to this serious environmental and vexing personal conundrum, present and future, range from the sublime and simple (the path that Push and Shove are looking for) to the more far-fetched high-tech options. Some are seriously advocating that insects and other invertebrates like earthworms might provide a certain portion of our diet. I’m thinking nightcrawlers might be tasty with those fresh eggs we’ll be gathering come spring.

Even more Star-Trekian, “meat without feet” can be grown in laboratory vats using the same tissue culture methods that makes new skin for burn victims. I’m not making this up (as Dave Berry used to be fond of saying.) And with so much meat with two feet treading the planet in our day, it makes me think the dystopian movie Solyent Green (1973, starring Charlton Heston) might be worth watching again.

Beef and pork cooperatives seem ripe to happen in communities like ours where one family has the fenced pasture; another can do the butchering. Several families share and the small, well treated, grass-fed, chemical free meat is enjoyed in small portions from time to time rather than being the central item in every meal. (How much? MyPyramid.gov recommends 5.5 oz of meat and beans in a daily 2000 calorie diet.)

So I suppose my wife is right: having our own source for eggs and meat fits nicely with our efforts to grow more of our own vegetables. And working harder for our protein, we’ll settle for meat as a treat, not a habitual entitlement. And our hearts and blood vessels and the planet will be a little better off for the effort.

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A Brief Acceleration

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Look for left-sidebar twitters (or follow fred1st) or blog updates here and later at the SEJ blog. Tomorrow, I’ll be visiting Polyface Farm hearing from Joel Salatin and others about the future of food in America and the world. I’ll be carrying my camera, too, so hopefully there will be a gallery for you as well.

The colors are near peak in many places–including our valley you see here in a shot grabbed on our morning walk a few days ago.

I haven’t told you about my Monday adventure yet–a day that produced almost 200 images. Life is rushing my direction, guess I’d better hang ten. Slow Road indeed. See you on the other side.

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To Boldly Go: River-bound

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Tripod, rubber boots, two camera bodies, two extra charged batteries, three lenses, speedlight, pocket recorder and a snack: I’m soon off for what promises to be a most interesting day.

The story that will come from the next twelve hours is not something I am at liberty to talk about in specifics pending the completion of the project. Time will come, I trust, when I can send you to a remarkable new site that blends science, geography, conservation and story-telling. And you can read then what I’m pleasantly busy with today.

Frankly, I’m just a little nervous. It’s one thing to take snapshots of bees on bedding plants, another to be responsible for a couple of hundred images (of people and landscapes) avoiding the “Big Oops!” of having the wrong ISO, settings still 3 stops over-exposed from the last shoot, a battery going dead or simply not getting the shots somebody else wants.

I did my first family portrait session back in June and it came out fine, even though with my lack of experience with that sort of thing and the pressure of having a satisfied customer(s), the Photoshop work and record-keeping were much more tedious and angst-inducing work than I’d imagined.

I’m sure today’s project will end up just fine, though there will be no small relief (at some future point after this week’s five days of conference) when I send the images off and am satisfied with the outcome. I do think the journey will be as much reward as the destination. Soon I’ll let you know.

Art Imitates Nature

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Crossing the footbridge across the branch beside the house the other day I was struck particularly by the reds in the old quilt hanging on the line by the shed. Ann had found it in town (at Finders Keepers) in sad need of repair.

So having patched the patchwork quilt and washed it (it held up!) it hung on the line first thing on a sunny October morning.

Against foreground of the single crimson dogwood, the pale pink of the mums and the angular beauty of stacked firewood, the hand-crafted functional art of the old quilt seemed to fit nicely, both visually and thematically. I could live without the black plastic–visually but not practically. Dry firewood will soon be a daily commodity–to keep us warm.

Quilt and stacks of wood: in the end, getting by, when you get right down to the bare bones of it, is all about maintaining body heat, isn’t it?

Click the image above, and when the enlargement opens, click your right arrow key for another view of the quilt showing how the morning light is already setting the ridge aglow even while the house below (and clothes line) is still in the shade of the ridge to the east and bathed in the even light of open sky.