Archive for the 'knowledge' Category

The bi-cameral woodshed

By Tom Read

Subtle but effective, that wall in the middle keeps our wood supply constant all winter.

A substantial number of households on Texada Island depend on firewood for winter heating. Here at Slow Farm, we use a combination of propane-powered hot water for radiant floor heating, plus a woodstove for back-up. The propane comes to us in a big truck every so often, and is stored in a 500-gallon tank on our property; it requires money but no work on our part. Firewood, however, is an entirely different story.

As city-turned-country people, we have slowly learned how to efficiently process firewood. Last summer, a full nine years after our move to Texada, we finally realized the wisdom of converting our woodshed into two chambers. This winter the benefit is about to become apparent: we’ve almost used up one chamber’s worth of wood; when we start drawing from the second chamber I will then refill the first. Thus, we will not even come close to running out of firewood this winter (as has almost happened in previous winters).

My friend Jim Mason, also a city immigrant to Texada, calls this the “bi-cameral woodshed.” Jim knows that “bi-cameral” refers to a two-chambered legislature, but he loves a bit of word-play, so now I imagine that we’re storing legislative cordwood. Or something like that. Anyway, what caught my attention is that Jim is one of several friends with city upbringing who have recently converted their one-chambered woodsheds to the bi-cameral system.

Why didn’t we think of making two chambers when we built the woodshed in the first place? After all, we could clearly observe such divided woodsheds among our lifelong rural neighbours, so why didn’t we just emulate them from the start? The answer, I think, is that city people just don’t trust direct observation; we often prefer to learn by reading. That is why classics like The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by the late Carla Emery, appeal so strongly to middle-aged back-to-the-landers like us. The result is a slower learning curve based on lots of muddling through.

So here’s a question: if I start learning more by doing and watching others rather than by books or Internet searches, does that mean I’m becoming countrified? Something to think about as I contemplate how to cope with the voles that have just infiltrated our garden….



By David Parkinson

A bee gathering nectar from the fruit of a young Oregon grape blossom. Hive gets nectar, flower gets pollen, in a nice example of symbiosis.

A bee gathering nectar from the fruit of a young Oregon grape blossom. Hive gets nectar; flower gets pollen: a nice example of symbiosis.

There’s more to life than books, you know,
But not much more.
Oh, there’s more to life than books, you know,
But not much more, not much more.

(The Smiths, 1983)

One of the reasons I started this blog is because I believe that it’s important to exchange information among people who are working together to create social change. I suppose everyone believes that, but I wanted to put my money where my mouth is by starting something that I hoped would evolve into a venue for people to talk about what’s going on in the region, what’s going well and what’s not going so well, and what we hope to do to build on the successes or address the challenges.

Aside from this blog, there are a few local email lists that I’m aware of which people are using to exchange newspaper articles and blog posts, online petitions, and other pieces of information having to do with the environment, politics (local and not-so-local), climate change, resource depletion, spirituality, eco-psychology, and a host of related topics. I know, from trying to keep up with what’s going on out there, that this blizzard of information can be overwhelming. I use Really Simple Syndication (RSS) to track just over three hundred online sources of information: mainly blogs and news sources; I subscribe to probably about thirty or forty listservs or email lists; lately I have started to get turned on to some sources of information via Twitter; and on top of all that, I have people who send me email messages pointing me at things they think I might be interested in. All in all, a hefty dose of news and opinions.

I consider myself near the top end of the scale of ‘info-tolerance’. (Which is not a boast, trust me.) But not everything worth reading or knowing about comes to us through electronic media. I am aware that we are all surrounded by people who have vast amounts of valuable knowledge, experience and wisdom acquired through years of study, work, and practice. Lately, I’ve been thinking of some ways we can share some of the things we know, or know how to do, or the things we want to know more about. Everyone is out there reading and learning about some of the same things, some different things; but what we need are more ways to bring all of this knowledge together.

So here are some ideas I’m throwing out there. If you see something you think is a good project to get started and you’d like to help with it, let me know. If you think of something I’ve missed, let me know.

Community bookshelf

Many of us are avid readers of books having to do with peak oil, climate change, food security, community resilience, environmentalism, and many other topics that could be loosely lumped together under the name ‘sustainability’. Most of the people I know and talk to are always telling me about what they’re reading, what they just read, or what they’re looking forward to reading. And I’m a voracious reader who always has three or four books on the go at a time. And so we end up with these books on our shelves, which seems wasteful since they should be out there circulating in the community. And we end up with all of this knowledge in our heads, which also could be spread around more, if we had more opportunities to pass it on.

So I decided to try out a jazzy little internet tool called ‘LibraryThing‘ to start up a little virtual bookshelf that we can use for exchanging books. This nascent project was inspired by Heinz Becker, who recently gave me a copy of Helena Norberg-Hodges’ Ancient Futures, with the proviso that I pass it on when I finish reading it. (Also, it was partly inspired by a similar community bookshelf at the Freakin’ Coffeeshop in Courtenay, which anyone reading this should absolutely visit next time they find themselves in Courtenay; it’s a five-minute walk from Creekside Commons co-housing project, which is also worth a look-see.)

If you click this link, you can see the books I’ve entered so far.

After I sent out my first email about this community bookshelf project, I heard from two people who have started similar projects in the community for book collections of special interest, so it might be possible to organize a single collection of resources which can be freely borrowed and passed around.

Here are some of the good reasons to set up a community bookshelf:

  • People can borrow these books for a longer time than the public library permits. In the case of reference material, that can be important.
  • We can’t always compel the public library to accept donations or purchase books that we might find worthwhile (especially when they are out of print), nor are they likely to stock multiple copies of the same book. Right now, our public library is so strapped for space that they cannot accept all donated books.
  • A project like this can supplement local work on sustainability and Transition. (See below for some ideas on how this could happen.)
  • We could even generate a small amount of money for worthy local causes, through user fees & fines; the worth local cause could be the purchase of books that people feel are worth owning in the community.

Here’s how you can get involved, if you think this is a worthwhile project:

  • If you have books lying around that you think might be of interest to others around the community, and the books are in some way about developing an appropriate and resilient local economy, preserving the natural environment, producing/preserving food, etc., then let me know. I am happy to physically house (and catalogue and track) any donated books until such time as we can find a better home for them. And I’m sure we can find a better home for them.
  • There will need to be some policies about how we manage donations & borrowing, so it would be nice to have some help working that out.
  • If you’re interested in borrowing one or more of the books listed so far, let me know. Let’s get this ball rolling!

Book reviews

Another way to pass information around, especially when it concerns a book, website, blog, or online article that you have just read and enjoyed, would be to write a review of the book or article. Inasmuch as it bears on the sort of thing we discuss here on Slow Coast, I would be happy to consider publishing it. I have wanted to write reviews of some of the things I’ve been reading since I started this blog, but somehow I always find myself with something more pressing on my mind when I sit down to pound out my weekly post.

If there is something you’re reading that you simply must share with others out there, consider writing a review. And if we had a community bookshelf up and running, then people who want to read what you review could find a copy easily and pass it on to the next in line.

“Slow Readers”

A similar idea, and one which (gasp) would take place in the real world would be a book club devoted to discussion of the books and other things we’re all reading. I’ve never belonged to a book club, because I’m not sure I could stand the regimentation of having a number of people all reading the same thing at the same time. But why not have a book club whose main purpose is just to rave (positively and negatively) about books to like-minded bibliophiles? Why not a monthly book club that consisted of five- or ten-minute presentations from numerous readers about the things they were reading? If something sounds worth reading, according to someone’s report on it, then it you can borrow it from the community bookshelf and read it, then pass it along.

Combine this idea with food, award extra points for especially witty or clever reviews, and this could be the hit of the dreary winter months. I’d love to hear about what other people are reading and enjoying. What a great way to build community and share ideas!


Kicking it up a notch from the book club would be something like a teach-in, in which one person or a group could take on the task of reading, digesting, and presenting the information from a book, online article, or whatever source of information they thought was worth passing along. I’d be willing to do this, and I have a couple of books in mind which I think should be more widely known. Again, this could be organized as a panel discussion with a theme; several people could take on the task of preparing a presentation on a book, or a chapter, or some aspect of a topic. Kind of like a free community-driven seminar.

The upshot is that we have a variety of tools and techniques available which can be used to spread knowledge, skills, and wisdom around more widely. Some of them are decidedly old-fashioned (e.g., sharing stuff) and some depend more on recent technical innovations (e.g., LibraryThing). But if we put them to good use, we can all teach and learn as much as care to.


To all lovers of books and libraries and librarians: do not forget that the Powell River Public Library will be holding its second public consultation on the subject of a new library facility for the region. This meeting will be at 7:00 PM on Tuesday, July 7 in the gymnasium at Vancouver Island University in Powell River. Please come out and share your thoughts about whether we need a new library and (if so) what your vision is for the future of our library.

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