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no room for hipsters

the occupation of Ashley and Levon

Category Archives: sustainability

My brother gave me a 55 gallon drum last summer.  He made an excellent compost bin with one, it hangs sideways between two posts and spins so you don’t have to stir, then dumps right into a wheel barrel.  I’m making a rain barrel out of mine.  To do that, it took me a year to break down and install gutters.  That’s what I did this past weekend.  Today I’m building an outdoor kitchen sink to run from the back side of the barrel.  It’s similar to what some friends have in Mexico.

So far this spring, my house projects have mostly involved twisting the monkey off my back: the utility company.  We’ve put up a laundry line, built window screens, hung screen doors, and now we’ve got this waterworks system.  The utility meter reader guy came by Friday while I was on the ladder.  I said, “Suck it, man.”

No, of course I didn’t.

We’ve spent $551 since June of last year on utilities.  It’s depressing how many CDs one has to sell to come up with that number (I don’t think I ever have).  Cutting wastewater will help the cost.  It’s really the ugliest one, tucked in there on top of the water bill.  They charge you to bring it, charge you to take it.  No matter if you drank some or poured it on a flower.

Last winter we were very cold, and in the summer we lit the house with lightning bugs.  We’re working on improvements.  On Grace Acres Farm in Virginia, transitioning from Harlem, every morning we opened the chicken coup, fed the goats, watered the cows, and tended the large garden.  My in-laws were on a motorcycle trip cross-country and knew Ashley and I could use a farmhouse in our life.  After the inner city lollypop adventure.

I found Rebekah’s copy of Thoreau’s Walden and came to his illustration of the Indian basket maker.  It resonated. Thoreau says, and I paraphrase:

“the Indian basket maker, who believed that crafting beautiful baskets was his greatest life ambition, decided that if he could not sell enough baskets to make a living, he would busy himself by creating a different style of living that did not require he sell as many of them.”

In the basement of the house at Grace Acres I recorded “New York City Spanks Levon Walker.”  It was very fresh on my mind.  Maybe I’ve sold 100.  It was on iTunes for a year and actually lost money.  I was very disappointed with that.

There is always the problem of sustenance when you busy yourself with making something, and less with the selling.  Songwriting is my craft, and I get a little sad when I have a new one and think forward to the people in a bar who I’m going to scream it into their collars.

If it made any sense, I’d live on this little piece of land and work the ground.  In the evenings, I’d sing to it.  In the mornings I’d write my blogs, or maybe a novel.  Ashley could paint what she wants.  Our kid could run around the yard and I’d have a camera nearby for when he/she did something astonishing.

To complete this utopia, I’d likely go away to work as a longshoreman in the South or on journalistic assignment to the U.S. border of Mexico.  Then we’d have the cash on hand to pay for government deficit spending, student debt, insurance, and other pretty little baskets like Netflix.

I was finished there for the day, but now I’m not.  My trouble with sales needs working out.

Trade can be a genuine exchange like buying tomatoes and eggs at the farmers market.  Or it is like buying a product in its devised cycle from a manufacturer who has already planned a replacement, and buying it with a credit card to get the bonus points, and maybe tacking on a few more large ticket items to jump into a higher rebate category.  I get the sweats about discussing my AT&T contract.  The bank wants to start a “relationship.”  They used to call consumption the “con” and it would kill you.

At one time I listened to Zig Ziglar incessantly.  I was in financial services sales then and I needed a motivational talk for every appointment.  Ziglar says, in so many words, that the salesman is the catalyst for the american way.  He said this a long time ago, way before credit crisis was the american way, and he also talked as much about integrity as he did sales.  I’m a Zig Ziglar fan, but somewhere I became extremely bitter towards selling.  Probably all the stood up appointments, cancelled contracts, and pressure during the banking crisis to sell our way out of ruin (due to previous overselling).  I starved in my suit and tie, it didn’t seem so scary to hang it up.  I have tomatoes now, too.

I sold less than 100 CDs in a year because I feel so dumb asking for money for them.  People have to insist, and insist at least twice.  Am I fast talking someone’s inheritance into my IRA plan?  No.  Those CDs carry lifeblood.  To say that they go for 5 bucks feels a little ridiculous, it’s more than a money issue.  I’ve given away well over 1000.  They are the manifestation of my gift, and a gift is not for sale.  Well maybe it has to be, but I’m very bashful about it.  It’s my paradox, and I’m going to start writing pop songs.  Those can be for sale, but not very good at sales and that’s why I grow tomatoes.

That was my explanation behind the 2010 EP “Not sure how I’ll eat but I’m not picking peaches.”  My new one is underway, “Hope for the things seen and unseen.”   It has my best songs ever written and I’ll slip you one soon.


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“Now, mister, the day my numbers comes in I ain’t
ever gonna ride in no used car again”

Used Cars, the Nebraska Album, Bruce Springsteen

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Goodbye, honey.  I’m going camping.

  At Max Patch in North Carolina, the Appalachian trail crosses the gravel access road at about .8 mile from the top.  We didn’t mean to be, but we became the Max Patch Waffle House for thru hikers.  With our pop up tents, cast iron skillet, and water from a five gallon thermos, we supplied luxuries like bacon, cobbler, and even salad with strawberry shortcake.

Eventually we reached the .8 mile summit.  There was a shortcut but we didn’t take it.

Then Knox did a rain dance.

For two days it rained.  It’s still raining today.

 I’m home.  Honey?

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Everything came to a head as I was looking through the Monday morning Craigslist ads.  Browsing for old cars around $1,500: a downsize, a vessel, a hood I could raise and never be reminded of the computer in my cubicle, or my six year old Corolla.

There was a 1976 Datsun 610 station wagon, Tennessee Volunteer orange.  Pure metal on the outside, hot cracked vinyl on the in.  4 speed with a new clutch.  A dashboard of dusty electrical tape.  I called.  It was a man I could trust, a man I wanted to meet.

from the actual craigslist ad

I biked from my office at the University of Tennessee to the library, where Ashley would be between her classes.  Many a sales pitch have I prepared in a similar stance of passion: pedaling furiously and piecing my route.  She would be excited and our lives forever changed.  I wanted grease on my hands.  We would make new fleeting memories, endured by great cost:  of a 1976 Datsun station wagon.  An orange so fluorescent.  Panache of the days unseen since my father was a younger man than I.

Ashley was midway through a masters program in Education.  Her unconventional idealism soared and stunk.  A polarizing pupil, the academics of the university loved her zeal; the public school needed her to manage the classroom.  With her physical stature like an eighth grader, it was difficult.  She was a flower of naivete being ground in the bureaucratic system.  I was waiting and hoping for a compromise that might work for her.  I rested gently, having long ago made mine.

And so we had lived these last three years.  Once before, we had been risky and a little premature.  And still before that, five years before now, young newlyweds drowning in archetypes more similar to the present, although located somewhere in Western Kentucky.

With a new number in my phone and an address in Maryville, I made haste.  Ashley wouldn’t understand what anything had to do with an old Datsun.  I’ll explain it to you like I had to for her.

summer 2008, my 1976 610 Datsun station wagon

 to be continued…

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We sold the dryer a while back to raise capital, before the NYC spanking debacle.  And since then we only do laundry on sunny days.  The free standing rack we got at IKEA can’t always hold the weight when a sunny day coincides with the initiative to tackle the laundry heap.  Usually we have to peel it like an onion for three sunny days.  The answer: a laundry line.

Today’s blog will be a “how-to” on building your own laundry line.  Why would you want one? (According to Project Laundry List) 10. Save money, 9. Clothes last longer (where do you think lint comes from?), 8. Pleasant scent, 7. Saves Energy, Preserves Environment, Reduces pollution, 6. Healthy work, 5. Sunshine treatment (sunlight bleaches and disenfects), 4. Replace another appliance, 3. Avoid a fire, 2. It is fun! 1. It is truly patriotic (demonstrates that small steps make a difference, you don’t have to wait for government action)

So here we go.   Two 12′ 4×4″s will give you a 6′ high line if you cut 3′ for your cross piece and leave enough to sink.  In the tennessee red clay, I gave myself two feet and cut off the rest.

Screw the two pieces together and dig some holes.  Mix your concrete according to instructions.

This big iron noodle is for feeding coal into the old fashioned furnaces from around here.  I’ve never figured out to do with one now, but it busts up the limestone in the clay, very neatly.

Wait for the posts to set.  Maybe you have time to watch this music video, it’s about a girl who makes it rain every time she puts out her clothes to dry:

Then you hang your lines.  Use i-hooks for the best look.  To save a few bucks, drill holes and tie off (tape the rope to a screwdriver and pull it through).  There are pulleys too, if you want to pretend you’re hanging your drawers between buildings.

You can tell I’ve got some sag on the first time.  That denim is heavy.

I’m working on a song called “Laundry Line.”   It talks about when we should and shouldn’t bring up difficult matters in situations.  If you want to be transparent, there are places to hang a laundry line and others that you shouldn’t.  But on this particular corner, my shorts are blowing in the wind.

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[ from a. addair who is listening to Keb’ Mo’ (Keb’ Mo’) ]

Some things I’ve been reading about :

“Many animals appear to have an instinctive aversion to genetically modified organisms (GMOs)…a farmer named Bill Lashmet performed a feeding experiment with his cows.  He filled one trough with fifty pounds of genetically modified Bt corn (a corn that has been altered to make its own bacterial toxin)  and the other trough with natural shelled corn.  He watched as every single one of his cows sniffed the Bt corn, withdrew, and then moved on to the natural corn, which they devoured.”

“It is because of the known risks and all the uncertainty that some countries have banned the growing and selling of genetically engineered foods.  Many residents of these countries are highly suspicious of GMOs and are especially watching American children to see if there are any long-term effects.  The children of North America have now become the world’s lab animals on whom to study the long-term effects of eating GM products.”

“[Professor Michael Pollan] likens consumer choices to pulling single threads out of a garment.  We pull a thread from the garment when we refuse to purchase eggs or meat from birds who were raised in confinement, whose beaks were clipped so they could never once taste their natural diet of worms and insects.  We pull out a thread when we refuse to bring home a hormone-fattened turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.  We pull a thread when we refuse to buy meat or dairy products from  cows who were never allowed to chew grass, or breathe fresh air, or feel the sun warm their backs.”

“What you can do:  Demand Labeling…The United States is one of the only industrial nations in the world that doesn’t demand that genetically altered foods be labeled.”

“What you can do:  Focus on Grocers…Even if the government isn’t responsive to consumers’ demands, grocery stores have to be, since we can now take our business elsewhere.”

excerpts taken from Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall

I hesitate to share what I’ve been reading because 1. this is old news to many 2. its offensive to others.  But I decided to click “publish” because 1. reminders are helpful and 2. I’m interested in exploring why concepts in ecology are perceived as combative.


from Harvest for Hope. caption reads: "Topo, an adult male chimpanzee living at a sanctuary in Bend, Oregon, invariably selects organic vegetables and fruits when allowed to choose. Here he eats the organic lettuce and ignores the other.



I think this is a matter of political marketing.  We’re trained to camp at one of two ends of a spectrum, effectively making us inept problem-solvers.

The way I see it, eating should have nothing to do with whether you’re a democrat or republican.  Food is such a basic need that it seems we should at least agree to put our power plays away while we make certain we can feed our bodies with whole, healthy, toxin-free food, if only to be able to fight another day.

Controversy is okay, but we should talk about it with an understanding of where our human institutions fit into a much larger picture.  We made them up, they will not be around forever, and they aren’t worth defending to the point of cruelty and exploitation.

When it comes to the health of our environment (and consequently our health) the issues are just too basic to subject to our silly little games.

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Lets all be pluralists and turn off the TV

we’ll seek the common good, embrace diversity

there’s more than one way to see, there’s mine and yours

through the eyes of me

Lets all be moderate and make a bubble bath

we’ll keep it cool enough that nobody gets mad

and keep your hands where I can see em

don’t touch my freedom

Let’s be conservative and have a casserol

by default it is a dish we all should know

I didn’t change it and you can’t blame me

it was always the recipe

Lets all be liberal and hope it goes away

we’re all intelligent enough to work and play

use your mental faculties

and make the check out to me

Lets be libertarian and get out of the way

your dog pooped in my yard but thats for you to say

I’d like for you to come and clean it

or say you’re sorry and mean it

Lets all stand in the middle and try to find the center

we’ll call it middleism and anyone can enter

look to the right and left twice and cross the street

you’re on the other side and that’s all that it means

did you go somewhere?

words and music by Levon Walker

written: Dec 2009 VA Beach, VA

recorded: June 2010 Grandmother’s Hill Tazewell, VA

filmed: April 2011 Knoxville, TN

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