Monday, February 15, 2010

Trying to understand what words like Transition and Resilience have to do with washing dishes

I’ve been wanting to explain to myself and to others what the Transition* movement is all about. So, I’ve made a few notes, trying for simple language. Some ideas - quite intermingled below - are from a short article titled Resilience,** by the late Brian Goodwin; his article is worth reading to savor his own take on this.

The Transition movement is bubbling up from the heartfelt need of many, many people to be more connected with the people in their communities and with the decisions of their communities; we want to make healthier lives for ourselves within our communities - our homes. Many people have been realizing that the economic model we live in (the buy more and bigger) just isn’t good for us, on a physical, economic, emotional or spiritual level. We also realize that we will be living in a world that has far less fossil fuel available and that there will be changes in climate; these two things will affect just about every aspect of life.

We are also realizing that we don’t know how to do things for ourselves in the way our grandparents did.

This realization - which I see as of core and heartfelt importance - is just beginning to reach magazine and book format, and is beginning at the easy end of the skills continuum. Marjorie Harris has a great little book out titled: Thrifty: living the frugal life with style. Knitting has been gaining in popularity over the last few years (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s Cookbooks are focusing on healthier foods. Books about reducing stress are even more prevalent than several years ago. Garden books are focusing on growing vegetables, and organics. Do-it-yourself books for home repairs sell well.

I’ve got a feeling that, as we come into the world of fewer fossil fuels and climate change, learning to do more for ourselves will extend beyond these relatively simple examples. And that for the things we don’t do for ourselves, we will have to become more thoughtful, as well as more knowledgeable, about how they are done. Certainly we will need to appreciate what others do for us.

Just as my own thought experiment here ... I’ll take ‘doing dishes’.

I don’t have a dishwasher, so I’ve never thought about the people and machines and fossil fuels that get ore out of the ground, the fossil fuels that go into smelting and manufacturing and shipping and retail outlets and more transportation to hook the machine into the city water system as it connects to my house. But my house does connect to the city of London water system ... people made the house pipes and the city pipes (all from mined and manipulated materials, everything transported by fossil fuels). The water that comes in has been cleaned by a complicated system of filters, containments, buildings, pipes, people all the way through who have skills I know nothing about ... other than if, while running tap water into the dishpan I can put a glass under the flow and drink that water safely. Incredible. And when I squirt in a bit of Ivory liquid, I have no idea what the chemistry of the soap is and certainly no idea of the chemistry of the plastic container or where it was made or where it was shipped from, or how much fossil fuel went into either the soap or the container. Who made my drainboard, where? How did the plastic coating get on the metal underneath it? What weird formula of plastic went over the wire as liquid then dried flexible? And what fossil fuels went into that?

Wow! Just on that one example!

So, keeping the clean water service, with thanks to all who brought it to me ... how would I do dishes if I didn’t have the Ivory liquid? The first thing that comes to mind is that perhaps I can make some sort of dish soap with a plant that grows like a weed around my place: soapwort*** (Saponaria officianalis). And the quickest search on the internet shows me that some parts of the plant are for gentle soap, some parts are medicinal used externally, and to be careful about ingesting too much of it. O.K. ... I see this will require a bit more research. How much would I need to harvest to carry over for the year’s dishes? How much processing? How well does the soap keep and under what conditions?

I’ve proven to myself that I don’t know much and need the help of others’ books and recipes. I need to find the community of people who understand plants and their uses. And I probably need the help of a small scale, local industry to make enough dish soap for me for the year. 10 - 12 litre containers? (since I use this for gentle cleaning of clothes as well as for dishes).

Goodwin says that ‘At the very core of the Transition message about cultivating new, sustainable lifestyles is the belief that human cultures must develop patterns of relationship in community that have the properties of natural ecosystems: they must become resilient, capable of responding adaptively and creatively to shocks and changes such that flexible responses lead to the emergence of new sustainable patterns of living’.

That fits with my need to get the dishes done!

Best regards to all. Why’s Woman

**Resilience, written by (the late) Brian Goodwin, published July/Aug 2009, issue 255 of Resurgence (online?) magazine - at the heart of earth, art, and spirit
***Soapwort Properties
Soapwort root, has been used as an alternative medicine since the time of Dioscorides. It is medicinal as an alterative, antiscrophulatic, cholagogue, depurative, diaphoretic, mildly diuretic, expectorant, purgative and tonic. A decoction of the herb is applied externally to treat itchy skin. One of the saponins in this plant is proving of interest in the treatment of cancer. A soap can be obtained by boiling the whole plant (but especially the root) in water. It is a gentle effective cleaner, used on delicate fabrics that can be harmed by synthetic soaps. The best soap is obtained by infusing the plant in warm water. Soapwort is sometimes recommended as a hair shampoo, though it can cause eye irritations. Caution is advised, when taken in excess, this plant is POISONOUS, it destroys red blood cells and causes paralysis of the vasomotor center.

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