Saturday, March 6, 2021

Book and Podcast Recommendations: All We Can Save


Podcasts keep my mind learning while my hands work in the greenhouse and gardens. Thre have meant a lot to me lately, as well as a book that is beautifully assembled and blazingly hopeful.

First the podcasts. Living on Earth has been around for awhile. It’s a weekly go-to source for coverage of climate change, ecology, and human health, hosted by Steve Curwood. It has a lot of different segments in each episode with news and interviews.

Second, How to Save a Planet, hosted by Alex Blumberg and Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist, is a newer show for those hungry for climate news focused on fascinating weekly topics, with in-depth interviews with a variety of people engaged in planet-saving enterprises: kelp farmers, native tribal leaders, electricity experts, Black Lives Matter leaders, Republican legislators, Gina McCarthy…. You never know who will turn up there and where the thought-provoking, fast-moving conversation will go. Notes for each show include doable calls to action.

And a third podcast for the climate curious, A Matter of Degrees, is hosted by Dr. Leah Stokes, a political scientist and author of Short Circuiting Policy, and Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, vice president at Project Drawdown, a climate solutions resource.

And the beautiful book: All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis is edited by two of the podcasters–Ayana Johnson (of How to Save a Planet) and Katharine Wilkinson (of A Matter of Degrees). All the essays and poems are by women from multiple ethnic backgrounds and professional specialties who stand together at the forefront of the climate movement, “harnessing truth, courage, and solutions to lead humanity forward.” They include such prominent climate women as Katharine Hayhoe, Gina McCarthy, and Naomi Klein, as well as poets like Mary Oliver and Alice Walker, and introduce you to many more besides. If you choose to download it as an audio book, there is a further joy: some of the essays are read by Jane Fonda and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The essays are sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, always deep, always thoughtful. And having co-edited an all-female book myself (After Exegesis: Feminist Biblical Theology), I am deeply appreciative of this kind of effort to raise feminist voices.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Inhabiting Eden has moved!

 As of March, 2021, this website has moved. You can find it here at https://www.inhabitingeden.org/.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

2020 in Solar Power

Given everything else that 2020 brought, Don and I are grateful to have moved into our zero-energy home before Covid grounded everyone. When everything shut down last March, my son and daughter-in-law, school principals in Miami, packed their four-year-old daughter Soraya in the car and drove to Indiana to stay with us and work remotely while Soraya and I played for five straight months. She had a blast, and so did her cousin who lives here, June. 

 

During those months Don and I developed our infrastructure. We built a dock, put up more cedar fences and fruit trellises, started composting horse manure from a neighbor, planted our first full year’s garden, built a treehouse, and planned the greenhouse that we finished as winter began.

 

I was eager to find out whether our house would truly turn out to be net-zero energy as we hoped. And here was the 2020 result:

Most months, from April through November, our 7.9 kw solar panel system generated more than we used. In the course of a year, it made 10,530 kilowatt hours of power, 15% more than expected. Our all-electric house, powering three extra people Zooming through spring and summer, AND my Chevy Bolt, AND Don’s electric assist bike, used 11,049 kWhs of energy, less than 1½ more per day than we generated. We were living comfortably, hosting family, driving to town and biking to work for a year on less power than we had used in a single week in our old house, after all the energy conservation measures that had cut our power use in half. Not only are the panels working, but the house itself, which is made to conserve energy fiercely, is doing what it was built to do. This is where the U.S., and the world, hopes and needs to go by 2050: renewably produced energy powering buildings and transportation. Given the will to invest in the future, it can indeed be done.

Here is a link to the beautiful showcase of our home and panels on the website of Solar Energy Solutions, our installer, whom we highly recommend (tell them we sent you!).

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Recreating Eden: A Podcast, and Other Opportunities

OK, apologies again for not keeping this blog up to date, and again, I'll try to do better. You'd think that Covid life would help, but I've actually been pretty busy.

By way of remorse, I'll mention three events I'm involved in:

First, tomorrow evening, January 25, at 7:30 Eastern/6:30 Central, I'm giving a Zoom presentation hosted by Tri-State Interfaith Creation Care in Evansville, starring our wonderful net-zero home. It's called Building and Living Green: Climate-Healthy Homes in Southern Indiana. Register and get the Zoom link by emailing: tristate.creation.care@gmail.com. Here's the flyer. 

Second, ongoing in January, a four-week Zoom class, currently called Presbyterians and the Climate Crisis. We're planning to offer it again, expanding beyond Presbyterians to other denominations and faiths, in April for Earth Month. Its goal is to engage hearts, minds and spirits to recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and inspire individuals and churches to take action to address this crisis, action that has been called for by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and other denominations and religious groups. Major focus is on environmental justice and on carbon fee and dividend legislation. If you are interested in getting more information for April, contact me at trishatull@gmail.com.

And third, a podcast! Kyle Kramer, executive director at the Earth and Spirit Center in Louisville, interviewed me recently about the Bible's support for creation care and about our zero-energy home, and you can find it here. Please enjoy, and send comments if you wish. 

Finally, pics of our new greenhouse, where we are growing our winter salad.

 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Presbyterians for Earth Care 2020 Lenten Devotion

This year it was my privilege to coordinate and recruit a wonderful group of talented writers to assemble the Presbyterians for Earth Care Lenten devotion for 2020. The theme is based on Genesis 1:29-31, "God Provides Enough For All." 

The devotions run from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Many thanks to David Shinn, Jeffrey Geary, Carissa Herold, Christian McIvor, Shelley Wiley, Kymberley Clemons-Jones, Jacqueline Lapsley, Anne Richter, Bridgett Green, and Tyler Mayfield for thinking together deeply about Scripture and Earth Care. 


The devotion is available on the Presbyterians for Earth Care website here: https://presbyearthcare.org/…/2020-Lenten-Study-012920-web.…
and here: https://presbyearthcare.org/…/2020-Lenten-Study-012920-P.pdf


Anyone who would like to subscribe can do so here: https://presbyearthcare.us5.list-manage.com/subscribe…

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Cultivating Outdoor Life


Much as we love the house with its energy superpowers, it’s still just base camp for what we’re really doing: enjoying, learning from, and prospering the little corner of earth we live in. Every day brings new insight—about wildlife, about tools, about how things grow. And just for the record, for people who keep asking about volume 2 of my Isaiah commentary: yes, I’m doing that too. Isaiah in the morning, farming in the afternoon. A good balance.

Recently some neighbors, older lifelong residents, were telling about the family that owned these acres nearly a hundred years ago—or maybe more. Two brothers and two sisters all named Schwein, none ever married. I had found them listed on the 1940 census, along with their father, who emigrated from Switzerland. Our neighbor remembers planting corn for them on our house site decades ago. That may have been the only conventional thing the Schweins did. They owned exotic animals—peacocks roamed the farm, and their house was filled with cockatiels and other colorful birds. The last remaining brother sold the place in the 1970s to our predecessor, who dug the pond and kept the fields neatly mowed.

Show-off!
For years we’ve cultivated trees, letting some fields grow back into the forests that used to cover Indiana. When we first planted a patch of oaks and poplars, they seemed artificial, straight rows of tiny whips. But nature has a way of taking charge. Now other species, sycamores, pines, cedars, have volunteered themselves to fill in. Deer, hawks, rabbits find cover there. Every time we drive in or out, a half dozen trotting turkeys lead the way.

As newcomers, we feel wonder at the bullfrogs and turtles, the single chipmunk, the bossy red-winged blackbird and curious hummingbirds, indigo buntings, great blue herons, kingfishers; the tadpoles growing in muddy puddles around our construction site, which the builder’s son and I rescued from a concrete tomb, and fed in pails until they sprouted legs and jumped away (they eat boiled lettuce, by the way); the dazzling monarchs and swallowtails, dragonflies, spiders, lizards, hundreds of ladybugs; elusive snakes and crawdads. One day this week I glanced outside and saw a single duck swimming in the pond: a hooded merganser, something we’d never seen here and nearly missed. It all lends urgency to pay attention.

Carrying on the tradition of trying the weird, I’ve planted not only lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, asparagus, garlic, and shallots in my Hugelkultur mounds, and several varieties of berries and other perennial fruit in beds around the house. I’ve also started some mushrooms. On a recent visit, my brother and sister-in-law helped me harvest some oak logs and drill shiitake plugs into them, and these are stacked by the barn waiting for the mycelium to inoculate the logs and begin fruiting.

Until recently, morel mushrooms could not be cultivated, only found wild. We once paid $25 for a small bag at a morel festival, and found them pure deliciousness. Now some farmers are growing them. There being no consensus yet on how it’s done, we don’t know what we're doing. Yesterday, after tilling a
10’x10’ square under some trees, we spread peat moss, soil with compost, gypsum, and sand, and then I scooped up and added all the wood ashes I could find to simulate a burn site, and raked in spores of black, white, and yellow morels. We’ll see if we grow anything besides a bad case of poison ivy.

When I used to lead trips to the Middle East, I felt awe at standing in places deemed holy for centuries and even millennia by residents and pilgrims from all over the world. But all that weight of glory is burdensome for clashing peoples, especially for those who lose it in the fray. At journey’s end I was always relieved to return to fly-over country—to a secret place that only we love. Now I’m content to stay.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Moved! Settling in! It’s working!


 Our new home in Henryville, Indiana was completed at the end of July, and we moved in right away. So far, we’ve experienced drought and extreme heat; torrential rain; multiple visitors including our four grandchildren; sunny fall days; nights of stargazing; planting asparagus crowns, garlic, and shallots in our newly made Hugelkultur mounds and finding volunteer acorn squash growing out of them; learning the many uses of a good tractor and several battery-powered garden tools; converting loads of building material, especially pallets and window crates, into barn and shed shelving; viewing a bobcat, coyote, two foxes, and numerous deer and turkeys on our game cam; watching hummingbirds, chickadees, woodpeckers, nuthatches, tufted titmice flock to our bird feeders; learning new species of wildflowers like nodding bur-marigolds and ageratum; transplanting multitudes of plants from our city garden; finding a new organic supplier of berry plants near Bloomington and starting our strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, hardy kiwis, and figs; drilling holes in oak logs and hammering shiitake plugs into them; literally watching the grass grow that lay as dormant seed for six weeks until the rains came; harvesting abundant lettuce and basil; and discovering and harvesting persimmons that were growing next to the pond.

It’s hard not to get carried away with projects. What saves us now are the shift in seasons and the shorter days of fall. Now that the rains have begun, we can ease up on watering and trust that our plants are all taking root. Soon it will be time to mow fields and plan for the spring. This week I’ll begin using a fan and vent to cool down the root cellar, which this year only contains a couple baskets of farmer’s market potatoes and a few fall vegetables.

Our solar panels are working very well. Here are some drone pictures of them that our installer recently took. If you look REALLY close, we are sitting on the porch watching the drone with my brother and sister-in-law. I’ve become a true geek about our energy efficiency. My favorite app is our Tesla battery, which shows in real time how much the panels are producing, how much our house is using, how much is going back to the grid, and how much is stored in the battery. So far, we have sent more than twice as much back to the grid as we’ve taken. Since we pay four times as much for grid power than we receive in credit, plus another $37/month for the privilege of being connected, having a battery that stores our power for nights and cloudy days is a tremendous advantage. I can take the EV Bolt into Louisville to run errands while the house battery charges up, come home and charge up the car, and then refill the battery before sundown.
 
Speaking of the Bolt, we recently drove it to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where I taught a class on scripture and creation care at Wake Forest Seminary. This would not have been possible a year ago. But VW’s settlement over their emissions cheating mandated the creation of Electrify America: the installation of hundreds of charging stations at Walmarts all over the country. In addition, many college campuses, including the two we visited, have free charging stations, and Chevy dealers likewise offer free superfast charging.

It does change the way you travel: we hopped from one station to the next, plugged in, set up beach chairs in the shade, and settled in for a half-hour read, rest, and often, conversation with a local who was curious about buying a Bolt and installing solar panels. Charging took more time, but it cost us less than driving the Prius would have, and even when the power source is coal, the fuel’s carbon footprint is lower than that of gasoline, and there is no exhaust pollution. Plus, it’s a sweet ride.


With the turning of the seasons, we’ve also turned on the geothermal in-floor radiant heat. It’s not what people expect—you can’t touch the floor and feel toasty, because it’s only 70 degrees. But along with the superb insulation and triple-pane windows, it noiselessly keeps us cozy, and hardly registers at all in our electric use.

We love our life here at Lost Beagle Lake. It’s an oasis of serenity and sustainability in the midst of national insanity, and in one of the most environmentally regressive states in the country. What our life here will grow into remains to be seen. We hope that it will become a welcoming retreat for many, and an example of what can be done with some imagination and initiative (and a good builder!).