An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of April 7, 2008
Written in the community of 28 de Junio and issued from a ciber 8 kms west
in Pujiltic, Chiapas, MÉXICO

OUR ELECTRICITY GOES OUT

Last Tuesday morning I returned to my casita with a camera full of pictures for this week's Newsletter. When I set up my laptop, however, I found that the electricity was off. We'd been expecting this. The previous week a man had come from the power company to cut the community's line because no one here pays. The man climbed a pole to unhook us but when three fellows from the community began walking toward him with machetes he got into his truck and left. The men had been going to cut sugarcane. Who knows what the lineman thought? Anyway, we continued getting our electricity. At least, until Tuesday morning.

I'm told that around here none of the Zapotista communities pay for electricity and few isolated settlements like ours do. Maybe officials think it's cheaper and nicer to provide free electricity to villages where families may have only a lightbulb, than to deal with a general insurrection because of the high costs of basics. Like so much in this part of the world, things just drift along ambiguously, occasionally reaching a flashpoint that may or may not change something.

One change that came about instantly Tuesday morning was in my own head. Suddenly I saw how my own relevance here depended on a very slender strand of wire strung across the sugarcane fields. I invite you to think about your own vulnerability to weak points in your own necessity-providing infrastructures -- your food-distribution system, financial system, medical establishment, the behavior of elected officials, etc.

Late that afternoon the power flickered back on, so the scare turned out to be a false alarm.

Still, the event got me thinking. For one thing, when I was standing in the middle of the room with my laptop no more than deadweight, it came home to me that what I really needed that day were my big jug of water and the food I'd bought Monday in Pujiltik. It's easy to forget that humans really need food, water and shelter, but that everything else is pretty much luxury.

So, why are we all letting ourselves become so utterly dependent on food-, water- and shelter-providing infrastructures completely beyond our control? It wasn't always like this.

How about this idea? This spring let's each of us plant something and keep it alive until it produces what we want. For, each of us should have a feeling for how soil should look, smell and feel if we want it to grow good crops. Each of us should know how to water plants, assure that they have enough sunlight, and even have an idea about fertilizer basics and how to use sudsy water against aphids. Each of us should be ready to show others how to grow food in case someday a certain line snaps, a certain bridge falls, the grid goes out, or a few selected satellites get shot down.

Moreover, I propose that we place our beds of lettuce and rows of squash where the whole world can see them, maybe along the sidewalk or along the front of the house. We need to poke a thumb in the eye of perverse public opinion that praises manicured, grassy lawns to the exclusion of more diverse and imaginative systems, and even sometimes makes illegal the hanging of washed clothes on outside lines. This spring we can all be guerillas just by planting a few seeds and hanging socks to dry where they're visible from the road.

Info and good links for learning gardening basics are at http://www.backyardnature.net/simple/garden.htm.

Maybe someone will start a discussion at our Google backyard-nature discussion group on "How I'm converting to an edible landscape" at http://groups.google.com/group/backyard-nature/.