Frugal Hedonism and Greening the Apocalypse

33 thoughts on “Frugal Hedonism and Greening the Apocalypse”

  1. Looks beautiful. What’s so sad about it, as you touch on briefly, is that many if not most of the people living in this beautifully local and sustainable way have actually flown in from thousands of miles away–making it about as unsustainable and unlocal as possible. I guess a positive way to look at it is that it’s like a children’s summer camp, providing a lovely example of the way things maybe could be. I just wish people could create these model villages closer to home. I think about these things in my own life: I live in Boston, ride my bike to work and everywhere else, and yet I have, with a few friends, a place in the woods 150 miles away in Vermont that I often drive to. I make the trip up to the Vermont land about twenty times a year, and only two or three of those trips are made by bike or bus, so I’m driving twenty-five hundred miles a year to enjoy my meadow and orchard and garden and local farmer’s market… And the planet is dramatically changing.

  2. What a beautiful place and nice friends you have. Jealous. The Pacific NW is paradise in summer and not too cold in winter. It has basically the same climate as Western Europe. I expect in 1000 years it will be just as crowded.

    Regarding resilience, I find the discussion of tribe and “trust” to be really interesting. My Italian American dad’s family converted to Lutheranism. I’m not sure if it was Lutheranism or just my dad’s personality, but he is very frugal, self effacing and self reliant (i.e. a jack of all trades). Not a typical Italian American, for better and for worse.

    I’m quite confident my dad would survive a collapse. No drama and no bug out bag. He would just ask the neighbor for some eggs for fixing their water heater or whatever. In a real apocalypse, I can totally imagine him roasting an old cat by the fire. I jest, but in end times, peasants gonna be peasants.

    Bringing it back to San Juan Island, is the community strong enough to withstand the fundamental disadvantage of being an island, no matter how lovely and fertile? I dunno, but some car dependent suburb (e.g. Federal Way, WA) might be a better bet simply by virtue of being along the “Camino de Santiago” of human settlement on the West Coast of North America.

    1. My understanding of the San Juan Islands is that they were relatively poor places until fairly recently. City money has allowed subsistence farmers to become hobby farmers for tourists and second home dwellers. That’s a blessing and a curse. Personally I discovered the reality of island life after having a house in Hawaii for 18 years. I came to the same conclusion that you did. A mediocre suburb on the mainland is just easier to retrofit than building a perfect place in the middle of nowhere.

    2. I can relate. My father was the same way. He came to America penniless but could fix or make anything. If that failed, he would barter.

  3. Hm-m-m…. Brings to mind the period of my kidhood in Salem, Oregon between the almost end of the Great Depression and just past the end of WWII; sans Puget Sound (and its bounty), the deer in the yard, jet flights from SFO to Seatac and the obvious wealth required to support the contemporary version.

  4. *sigh* another article extolling the carefree San Juans lifestyle… reality is, of course, a bit different for the proles. The Lopez economy is utterly dependent on tourism; these lovely farms cannot survive without the influx of relatively wealthy summer visitors and second-home owners. There’s a firehose of money from Seattle/Bellevue that supports our community facilities and the majority of the businesses. We are effectively an economic and cultural colony of the wealthy cities of Puget Sound. The Lopez community is much less resilient than this article would suggest.

    Lopez is like a lot of popular tourist destinations in the West: beautifully scenic, superficially healthy, but completely dependent on outside money and thus, fundamentally fragile. We have an “underclass” that is suffering from poverty and addiction and all the despair & dysfunction that comes with those. Nearly all the decent rentals have been pulled from the market and converted to short-term accommodations, leaving an unknown number of people (workers) living in RVs, moldy trailers, and crumbling cabins.

    The Lopez visible in this article is largely the product of a wealthy professional class who have chosen to put their considerable resources to work here. That’s all quite wonderful, and the people who can afford this artisinal fare are indeed fortunate: but IMHO it’s a myth that we’re somehow better placed to weather economic downturns than the mainland. I remember the crash of 07-08, as many businesses folded when tourism and second-home construction jobs dried up. Since then real estate prices have gone ever crazier and fewer people than ever are in any position to secure the most important resource of all: productive land, owned free and clear.

    Lopez does have a lot of community-driven initiatives that can act as an example to others, but the replicability of these is debatable: the primary reason all this works pretty well on Lopez is that we are at tiny, geographically isolated population with a strong sense of mutual dependence. That small town spirit is quite susceptible to dilution and even destruction as more and more of our community skews towards the wealthy, part-time people who have the resources to pack up and leave if things start to go bad.

  5. One of the local farmers used to raise chickens for eggs. He used an honor stand with a refrigerator out towards the road from his house. He said that most people were honest, but he could tell when the money when was running low each month. He’d be shy a dozen eggs or so. He considered it an act of charity.

  6. I finally got my hands on a copy of Retrosuburbia, and am deep within its pages, saying to myself, “Yes, yes, this is what I am working towards..” The Art of Frugal Hedonism has been one of my favourite books for a couple of years now, and I am looking forward to sampling the Greening the Apocalypse podcast.
    The life your friends are living seems idyllic, human centred and human scaled, in beautiful surroundings. Yes, you have to have a certain income to afford this ‘simple’ lifestyle, but I am always encouraged when people with money choose to embrace ‘frugal hedonism’ – choosing to spend judiciously on real things that matter, and to invest time and effort in community enterprises that result in a great standard of living.
    One aspect of Retrosuburbia that I am enjoying is its emphasis on living as well as possible on a small income. The case studies on share houses and rentals make the whole project somewhat more approachable for the masses who don’t own a house in the suburbs, but I am equally interested in the project of how to make the suburbs sing with a quiet revolution of suburbanites filling their houses and yards with people, businesses, chooks, gardens, workshops, and yes, clotheslines:) Thankfully it is considered ‘unAustralian’ not to have a Hills hoist in the backyard.. although in this land of almost perpetual sunshine, it is rare to find a house without a dryer. Mine is one though, and I always have clothes flapping all over the place. The smell of sun-dried washing is one of the great frugal joys, unavailable to plutocrats with clothes dryers..

  7. Do your friends happen to know if July 4 fireworks are a thing on Lopez? We and our dog “get the heck out of Dodge” –aka The War Zone– to avoid them every Independence day now, it has become a nightmare for all three of us. We usually stay in VRBO type situations.

    Too bad about the laundry Nazis, thankfully we’ve never had that problem here.

    1. I think Lopez has a municipal fireworks thing near the village above the bay where the sea planes land on Independence day. The rest of the island is probably pretty tranquil.

      1. Lopez Island on July 4th is a zoo. We have a huuuuge fireworks show and the population of the island at least triples for the holiday. The ferry lines are horrendous, the lines at the stores are horrendous, the crowding is awful. Lots of locals either leave or cower in their cabins as the tourists take over the island. It’s really quite awful.

    2. A friend of mine is a veterinarian. She starts booking tranquilizers for local dogs and cats weeks before the fourth. It’s a great holiday, but rough on many animals.

  8. in no particular order….

    I love the bicycle orientation (for the 4 or 5 months you could comfortably do it in the San Juan Islands). But that assumes everything is a short bike ride away. I DID live like this in college. Bike, no car, at UCSB. Lived next door in Isla Vista. Worked and studied on campus. All my friends were in IV. Handful of people had cars, if you really needed one in a pinch. Fantastic, for 4 years or so. Hard to replicate however.

    Most of the recycling – of normal stuff – I would think assumed. Composting, etc. I consider myself a Boy Scout conservationist. I fix stuff. Day-old leftovers become soup or stew. Reuse water bottles and zip-lock bags. It’s my nature. That said, I get a strong whiff of Environmentalists, capital “E”, among some of these folks, just by taking a gander, and yes, I s’pose I am being judgmental. Sleeve-wearing environmentalists. (Taking cardboard boxes on your little trailer to the dump? Good God, man…..there’s not many…..just burn the damn things!) By analogy, I’m reminded of a comment about Vegans: “The only problem with Vegans….is that they never shut up about being Vegans.”

    Cashier-less markets. Possible only in a high-trust society. I like to think I could function in such a manner, and I am sure you could as well, Johnny. In fact, I’d go so far as to say every last person who reads this blog could as well. (Self-selection in action.) Now……take a look around at the other drivers when u are stuck in traffic on the 405. Yeah….I didn’t think that’s gonna work so swell either. LOL

    Air drying laundry. Again, I suspect everyone here would agree that it’s silly and trivial thing to be hostile to. (I’m 60, and we didn’t even have a dryer until I was 10 or so). I suspect the Shotgun’s readers are better observers of the world around them, and maybe have a better understanding of historical context, and realize it wasn’t that long ago that this was commonplace. (Jersey City, 1939).

    1. It’s possible to ride a bike and be in the village in five minutes from this house. The dump is ten minutes away. Other destinations are farther away so less pleasant in winter. But still totally do-able for the hearty and able-bodied. I think a lot of the “silly” bike treks with the cart are actually about physical fitness and exercise – something I personally need more of. I hate “exercise” but I’ll ride a bike all day long and not think about it in the same way. But yes, in winter… not so much.

      If I lived there I’d have a deep pantry with most of the shelf stable foods and such I’d need for the entire winter. This would minimize my need to leave the house – and buying in bulk is generally cheaper. But then cabin fever would set in… It’s tricky.

      Cashierless stores are already here for the unwashed masses. Computers and surveillance equipment keep people honest, not Lutheran morals.

      College campuses, corporate campuses, retirement villages… all walkable and bike-able. We “could” build most places along the same lines. Or more to the point we could connect all the isolated campuses with something cheaper and easier to navigate than 16 lane freeways. But I’m not interested in pushing on that string myself.

      You brought up the 405. I was born in LA and still have family and friends there. When I’m in Van Nuys or Palmdale or some odd corner of Glassell Park I look around and reverse engineer how I would live there. As bland and ugly as much of LA is, there are a lot of great people around and plenty of opportunities of every kind. And most of it – at least at the neighborhood level – can be biked in spite of the hideous car dominance. It’s all about reverse engineering a good life from the raw material on hand. But I prefer not to since I have other options.

  9. This is very interesting to me because I live in the Canadian Gulf Islands. Mostly, the landscapes and lifestyle are the same (I’ve even seen that sailboat from the ferry!) but the one thing that nobody here wants is more density, especially in the form of affordable housing for young families or people who work the summer tourist season. The concerns centre around groundwater, emergency services, and possibly ferry transportation. Your previous post about Lopez Island showcased different types of affordable housing, and I wonder why, on such a small island, when so much of the culture is the same, people there aren’t worried about increasing the amount of housing (I realize the land trust project took time, but a similar long-running proposal here just died, and there are no apartments at all).

    1. People here ARE worried about increased housing. Well, conflicted might be a better word… Working class people can’t even hope to buy a house here, and rentals are extremely scarce, so if we’re to have any diversity at all we know we need to support affordable housing. On the other hand we have very limited resources and the existing summer population isn’t sustainable, so increasing the amount of housing is going to increase pressure on those very items you list: groundwater, EMS, and ferry space.

      Most of us who have experienced the local housing struggle support building more affordable housing, as the least that we can do as a community to help provide decent housing for our residents. However we also recognize the finite resources of our little island and how our dependence on tourism is not helping us become more resilient.

      The “affordable” housing is actually becoming too expensive for the lowest income households. It’s really more lower-middle class housing, as mortgages are creeping up into the $1200+/month range.

  10. Honestly it’s not really all that functionally different from the life that my Amish relatives follow in Belleville PA. Grow lots of varied and nutritious foods, sell it at local food stands and the local market. Get around by bike and buggy and on foot. Pick up your local eggs and leave the money in the box. Salt cure your own hams and bacon, make your own butter, butcher your own grass-fed beef.

    1. My German-American ancestors, right down to my mom, lived that way too. And my parents today live in an upscale suburb…with a clothesline in the side yard. It’s screened by evergreens and a hedge. 🙂

  11. When I was living in the Netherlands in the winter of ‘72-73, I went to a laundry and they asked me to use a second spinner after the washer and before the dryer. I wonder if that’s what they do at Lopez.

    1. Technically, most home washers are washers and extractors. In commercial laundries, the washers and extractors are separate devices. When I was a kid, our apartment building had separate washers and extractors with coin slots. Later, they changed to washer/extractors, but if you were going to dry your laundry on a rack, usually in your kitchen, you’d use the extractor to get out extra water rather than paying more for the driers.

    1. Like I said. Lutherans. And your point is?

      So… I’m a gay guy from San Francisco. No one needs to lecture me about multicultural inclusion blah, blah, blah. I’ve explored majority black and brown neighborhoods in other parts of the country where families are doing similar things, often in less cosmetically attractive settings and with infinitely less money. In my opinion they’re better at living “green” than middle class white folks largely because they have to economize and can’t splurge on counterproductive bells and whistles.

      One of the impediments is the dominant culture that wants things to look a certain way. Neatly trimmed lawns, etc. Productive activity is often unsightly by the “Gladys Kravitz” standard. Combine that culture with a desire to extract fees and penalties to boost revenue in financially ailing municipalities and the front yard veggie garden or rainwater catchment tank is a problem – especially for minorities. And that’s even true when the minorities are the majority.

      And this dynamic will change… How? Why? When?

    2. Seriously? That’s what you take away from this entire post? Maybe if I drive about 2 miles and did a follow-up on Mexicans in Santa Ana growing vegetable gardens and air-drying their laundry in their backyards and actually taking the bus, you’d note that there sure seemed to be a lot of brown people in my pictures?

      Like, unfettered identity politics will be the death of us. I weep for young people such as yourself.

    1. The same reason they don’t want strangers parking in front of their lawns. It’s an aesthetic thing. But the miles of Jiffy Lubes and Burger Kings that stretch out in every direction? That’s just normal… “Whatever.”

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