Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Seeking the Gaianomicon

The archetype I proposed as a model for an appropriate-technology revival in the age of peak oil – the archetype of the green wizard – comes with certain standard features in folklore and fantasy. One of them happens to be a full-blown archetype in its own right: the book of ancient and forgotten lore. Those of my readers who plan on becoming green wizards will need to provide themselves with the grimoires, literally “grammars,” of that art, and in this post I propose to explain how to do just that. Yes, it involves a quest; the details will follow in a bit.

The archetype is more important than it might seem at first glance. Our time, as the media never tires of telling us, is the information age, a time when each of us can count on being besieged and bombarded by more information in an average day than most premodern people encountered in their entire lives. Now it’s important to remember that this is true only when the term “information” is assumed to mean the sort of information that comes prepackaged and preprocessed in symbolic form; the average hunter-gatherer moving through a tropical rain forest picks up more information about the world of nature through his or her senses in the course of an average day than the average resident in an industrial city receives through that channel in the course of their lives.

Still, the information the hunter-gatherer receives is the sort that our nervous systems, and those of our ancestors back down the winding corridors of deep time, evolved to handle. The contemporary glut of symbolic information—words and images detached from their organic settings and used as convenient labels for mental abstractions—is quite another matter. There are certain advantages to the torrent of abstract information available to people in the industrial world these days, to be sure, but there’s also a downside, and one major part of that is a habit of shallow thinking that governs most of our interactions with the information around us.

A hundred years ago, by contrast, a student pursuing a scientific or engineering degree might need half a dozen textbooks for the entire course of his studies. Every chapter, and indeed every paragraph, in each of those books would be unpacked in lectures, explored in lab work, brought up in tests and term papers, so that by the time the student graduated he had mastered everything those textbooks had to teach. That depth of study is almost unheard of nowadays, when students shoulder half a dozen huge textbooks a term, and have so little time to process any of the contents of any of them that the bleak routine of memorize, regurgitate, and forget all too often becomes the only option.

Combine that with the transformation of much of American higher education into a predatory industry fueled by aggressively marketed student loans, and every bit as focused on quarterly income as any Fortune 500 corporation, and you have the collapse of our educational system sketched out in a recent and harrowing blog post by former professor Carolyn Baker. The resulting ghastly mess is problematic in just about any sense you care to contemplate, but it has a special challenge for potential green wizards, because very few people these days actually know how to study information the way that a project of this nature demands.

Treat the material I’ll be covering in the weeks and months to come as a formality or a collection of hoops to jump through on the way to some nonexistent degree in green wizardry, in other words, and the result will be abject failure. If you plan on studying this material, dear reader, you need to pursue it with the same total intensity your average twelve-year-old Twilight fan lavishes on sparkly vampires. You need to obsess about the way an old-fashioned computer geek obsesses about obscure programming languages. You need to drench yourself in it it until it shows up in your dreams and seeps into your bones.

You need to do these things because the ideas central to the old appropriate technology contradict the conventional wisdom of today’s industrial cultures at literally every point. All the things that we learnt about the world by osmosis, growing up in a society powered by cheap abundant fossil fuels and geared toward a future of perpetual progress, have to be unlearnt in order to understand and use appropriate tech. The fact that they also have to be unlearnt to make sense of the world in the wake of peak oil is also relevant, of course; it’s precisely because many of us, even in the peak oil scene, haven’t yet unlearnt them that you see so many grand plans for dealing with peak oil that assume, usually without noticing the assumption, that all the products of cheap abundant energy will be readily and continuously available in a world without cheap abundant energy.

The old archetypal image of the book of ancient and forgotten lore is among the very few cultural images we’ve got of information that doesn’t belong to the read-and-forget category. Consider the Necronomicon, the imaginary tome of occult wisdom from half an hour before the dawn of time that plays so large a role in the horror-fantasy stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s characters don’t page casually through the Necronomicon and then go on to the current issue of People magazine; they search the world and risk their lives to get mere fragments of the text to study, even though they usually end up being dragged offstage by an unearthly tentacle because the fragment they got doesn’t contain the Voorish Sign or some other bit of protective lore.

Now I trust none of my readers will be dragged offstage by an unearthly tentacle, or even an earthly one, as a result of the studies I propose to offer them, but then a book “concerning the laws of death” (which is what nekronomikon means in Greek) is not going to be particularly useful for a student of appropriate technology. What’s needed instead is a Gaianomicon, a book “concerning the laws of Gaia” – if you will, a manual of the theory and practice of applied human ecology. Like Lovecraft’s tome, the Gaianomicon exists only in fragments, and your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to gather enough of those fragments to make a start on your education as a green wizard.

I’ve made the first part of your quest easy. Back in the early 1980s, when I worked my way through the Master Conserver program in Seattle, I collected the instructional handouts from the program and stashed them in a binder for future reference. I’ve still got them all, and have scanned them into a PDF document, which you can download from this page on the Green Wizards forum. Those of my readers with slow internet connections should be aware that this file is 190 pages long and comes to nearly 8 MB. The handouts cover one part of the curriculum we’ll be discussing, the part dealing with energy conservation and renewables, which will be given a more evocative name a little later in this process.

I’d like to ask everyone who downloads the file, by the way, to do two favors for me. The first is to print out a copy of the whole thing on paper, and put it away somewhere tolerably safe; the second is to make sure that at least one other person who doesn’t read this blog gets a copy of the file, either electronic or printed. I don’t actually know for a fact that this is the only set of these handouts in existence, but I have yet to meet or even hear of anyone else who kept their copies, and it would be useful if this material were to get handed on to the future. Think of it as a bit of cultural conservation, of the sort I’ve mentioned several times already in these essays.

That’s the first part of the quest. The second is going to be a little more challenging, though only a little. You don’t have to go hunting for the lost city of Roong in the mountains of Zarazoola on an improbable third hemisphere of this already overexplored world. Instead, you need to go to a local used book store. It needn’t be the biggest and best in your area, if your area has more than one – in fact, in my experience, you’ll be more likely to get good results by going to one of those out of the way hole-in-the-wall places where the stock doesn’t turn over too quickly and some of the books have been there for a good long time.

You’re looking, of course, for books from the original appropriate technology movement of the 1970s and 1980s. There were hundreds of them back in the day, a small number from the large publishing houses of the time and a great many more from struggling presses run by individuals, or by the little nonprofit groups that created so much of appropriate tech. You may find anything from professionally bound hardbacks with dust jackets down to staplebound pamphlets with hand-sketched illustrations. You may find them in the gardening section, or in the home repair section, or in the science section, or in the nature section, or in a special section all its own labeled "Homesteading" or "Back to the Land" or something like that. (I haven’t yet found a store that labeled it "Naked Hippie Stuff," but hope springs eternal.) You may even find it jumbled up all anyhow with the general nonfiction because the proprietor of the used book store has no idea where to put it.

Wherever it turns up, you’re looking for a book on organic gardening, energy conservation, renewable energy, or anything related to them, preferably one that includes hands-on projects or ecological philosophy, or some of both. If you get one of the classics – The Integral Urban House, Other Homes and Garbage, Rainbook, The Book of the New Alchemists, The Food and Heat Producing Solar Greenhouse, or the like – that’s good, but it’s not required. It counts just as much if you find a little staplebound pamphlet on composting, or a ragged trade paperback from a small press on building a solar oven, or an old Rodale Press hardback on insulated window coverings, or what have you.

There are two points to this exercise – well, actually, two and a half. The first point is that your work with green wizardry certainly shouldn’t be limited to what one middle-aged archdruid has studied and practiced, under sometimes sharply limiting conditions, over the last thirty years or so. If you make appropriate tech part of your life – and if you intend to practice it at all, that’s pretty much what you need to do – at least a modest library of books on the subject is essential. You will develop your own personal take on appropriate tech, and your own personal style in putting it to work; the books you read and study, whether you agree with them or not, will help you start the process of bringing the take and the style into being.

The second point is that many of these books are nearing the end of their useful lives. The limited budgets available to most of the appropriate tech presses meant that most of the books were printed on cheap paper and bound by whatever method cost least. If they’re going to become anything but landfill, and if the information they contain is going to find any sort of new home, somebody needs to take responsibility for making that happen and, dear reader, it might as well be you.

The half point is that the appropriate tech movement, like any other movement on the fringes of the acceptable, had its own quirky culture and its own distinctive take on things. If you were learning a martial art, let’s say, an important part of your early learning curve would have to do with picking up the customs and traditions and little unspoken rituals of the art, which have nothing to do with how to block a punch and everything to do with navigating the learning process and interacting constructively with your teachers and fellow students. This remains important even when the movement no longer exists and the surviving participants have either gone on to other things or have spent the last thirty years laboring away in isolation at ideas and practices nobody else cares about; your task is harder, that’s all, and one of the few ways you can get a sense of the culture of the movement is to spend time with its writings and its material products.

So that’s the second part of your quest for the fragments of the Gaianomicon. The third and final part is simpler, and those of you who are wondering why you can’t just do all your book shopping on the internet can take heart, because this part of the assignment can be done online if you like. Your task here is to get a good basic book on ecology. If at all possible, it should be a book from the late 50s, 60s or 70s, when the concept of the ecosystem was central to the field in a way that hasn’t always been the case since then; the ecosystem approach is central to the way of thinking we’ll be exploring in posts to come, and a good grounding in it will be essential.

If you don’t have any previous background in the life sciences – and if what you have is what you got in American public schools, that amounts to no previous background – a book I like to recommend is a deceptively simple little volume called Basic Ecology, by Ralph and Mildred Buchsbaum. Originally published in 1957, it has been in print ever since, and provides a clear introduction to the ideas you’ll need in a very readable and nontechnical form. If you’ve got enough background that a serious textbook holds no terrors for you, one to get is Eugene P. Odum’s Fundamentals of Ecology, probably the classic statement of the ecosystem approach. There are other good books on ecology to be had, however; while you’re at the used book store, you might want to take the time to see what’s in stock.

So those are your initial textbooks or, to use the archetypal metaphor with which I introduced this post, the tomes of ancient and forgotten lore you need to gather in order to begin your training as a green wizard: the Master Conserver handouts, one or more old appropriate-tech books, and a good introduction to the science of ecology with a focus on the ecosystem concept. If you already happen to have the latter two sitting on your bookshelves, and I know some of my readers do, that’s great; if not, please try to get them over the next week or so. Either way, put some time into reading them, and think about how the ideas contained in them might be applicable to the challenges of a world on the far side of peak oil. Next week we’ll start weaving some of those ideas together and exploring how the green wizardry of appropriate tech can be put to work.


David said...

Here's a link to a site that has scanned copies of publications from The New Alchemy Institute in the seventies and eighties:

Bill Pulliam said...

The journey begins! 8 MB will take just shy of an hour over my dialup, which is certainly doable. I'll just start it at bedtime and, barring server timeouts, etc., it'll be waiting for me in the morning. For task #2, we have several well-read volumes of the sort you mention in our library already, but I may do your exercise anyway just to see what I find here in the backwoods (where the naked hippies started wearing clothes decades ago, alas). I'd wager that for task #3 the 8 years I spent in The House That Odum Built have that covered?

Given my academic background, I do forget that not every formal student of "ecology" has received a real ecosystem-focused perspective. Even a lot of "ecosystem" talk that happens is really more about "communities" -- the collection of plants and animals, but without as much attention to the equally important collection of atmospheric, hydrological, geological, edaphic, biogeochemical, energetic, etc. components of the ecosystem. The ecosystem approach is not extinct in Academia, fortunately; it is thriving still in some places such as Athens, Fort Collins, Gainesville, Ithaca, Lawrence, and up on that redundancy known as Table Mesa (as much as true scholarship is able to endure in the present-day academic climate anywhere on earth).

Since we're starting with your master conserver notes, I'll give a link to a 6-year-old blog post of mine (sigh, yes, I have been blogging for 6 years, I was an early adopter...). It's highly relevant to the area of household energy conservation:

Irrational Athiest said...

Thanks for the PDF. It's always a good idea to preserve 'good stuff'.

David said...

Here are a few words of counsel from a well-known wizard that ought to be part of any credo of future Green Wizards:

"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule."

Lamb said...

I have many, many books on conservation, ecology, homesteading, gardening, composting (HUMANURE!)and the like. My favorite new acquisition is Gaia Gardening...a gift from my dearest friend this past Yule.I can suggest a web site of Gaia gold for you to explore, if you haven't found it already: Many of these pamphlets are intended for farming/gardening/surviving in Third World areas, but some can be appropriate here. Well, maybe not the crocodile farming...
Like many *preppers*, I have binders to keep such downloaded and printed out information in. I have for gardening, one for building, one for first aid and so on. Binders are cheap at the dollar stores or maybe everyone has a few hanging around the house or can pick one or two up at a yard sale.I even have a few photo pages in mine to slide a picture or two in when I am doing step-by-step project instructions.
Since I haunt old bookstores on a regular basis...a few suggestions:
Salvation Army thrift stores
Goodwill thrift store
ANY charity thrift stores, books generally go for a dime to a dollar. Sometimes they give them away when overloaded.
Library sales. My local library also has a give-away bin.
College used bookstores, particularly when they are changing the books for courses...great bargains!

I am watching with interest and eagerly diving into your *course of study*.

risa said...

Ah, now we're getting down to the nitty gritty.

My partner and I left the grid in the 1970s (for awhile) and read pretty much everything the Coevolution Quarterly recommended. We even went to visit Carla Emery.

Thirty-three years on, we still try to subsist on one acre, and to pass on tips about energy efficiency, reuse, and low-impact farming.

Back in the day, Schumacher was our hero and ITDG seemed to be at the center of The Way Back To Sanity. They are still around under the name Practical Action.

My question: there was, IIRC, a library of little manuals like the ones you describe, at ITDG headquarters. They had the whole thing, over 7,000 texts, microfiched and made it available in a little box with a portable, no-power-needed reader. Does that set of documents still exist? This would form a big chunk of your Gaianomicon, I would think.

Robo said...

My copies of the "Integral Urban House" and that solar greenhouse book have been following me around for more than three decades, peeking out of their storage boxes every now and again so I wouldn't forget them. Only in the past two years did they finally got to make their respective contributions to a recently completed home renovation. Sometimes these things take longer than we thought they would when we were young.

Thirty years is really not a very long time on a cultural scale. Too bad the bindings on many of those valuable books are falling apart now that we really need them. Fortunately, Gene Logsdons's "Small-Scale Grain Raising" was recently revised and re-issued, just in time for my actually getting around to raising some small-scale grain. My original copy had become a taped-together mess.

Certainly, proper bookbinding should be elevated to the appropriate level of wizardry that it deserves.

Here in the USA, the ecological illuminations of the mid 20th century were almost completely obscured, but never actually extinguished, by the garish glare of Ronald Reagan's false dawn. Finally that last flaring of the petroleum age is beginning to die down, and those more modest flames are becoming visible once again, like the Milky Way beyond the city lights.

Many thanks for your continuing contributions and illuminations as we move towards a more starlit future.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Being a used book dealer (and I am trying to avoid any shameless plugs for my business) I found this post most interesting. A couple of thoughts.

If you find some pamphlet that is fragile and falling apart, you might scan it on your printer onto high rag content, low acid paper. I know my printer scans and copies onto whatever paper I put in it. Do it now before the cost of paper and ink get even higher. That PDF file you were talking about. Might be good to print it on such paper. I'm going to.

Thursdays are the day I close my shop and meet my 88 year old Dad out at the local Rez to have lunch with him and watch him gamble away my inheritance. He rides a bus in from 90 miles away to do this. Seriously, it's his money and I don't care what he does with it. It's nice to see him out with his friends, having a good time. And, he seems unusually lucky.

Before and after my time with Dad, I get out and 'beat the brush' for stock. I always look for stuff on appropriate technology. I would have passed on old Ecology texts, but will now add them to my "looking for" list.

As far as my store goes, I'm now very tempted to add a shelf of "Naked Hippie Stuff." It tickles my sense of the absurd. I have also been thinking about putting up a few signs that I am willing to "trade books for produce."

In closing I want to mention that I price my books to the low end of Amazon. I figure they are my primary competition. I take into account condition and shipping. What I've noticed is my books tend to be less expensive than the other three used book dealers in town. Yup. Four used book dealers in our littler burg. Not exactly Hay on Wye, but we're getting there. I think there is another book dealer here. I hope they chime in. PS: Plain old Lew.

Gabriel said...


there are some interesting articles on LowTech Magazine including

which contains links to many DIY manuals.

Printed photographs fade, CDs get scratched, ink get peeled off as I was told. Do you folks have experience with "durable" printing (time to use needle-printers again)?


subgenius said...

Many interesting books covering various levels of technology and complexity can be found at Lindsay Publications - from how to build and use lathes and foundries, through diy solar panels (making them!), to distilling alcohol (if all else fails!)

They will send you a free catalog if you contact them with a mailing address.

Matthew said...

Given the amount of "harmony" and "balance" the ecology books will fantasise about, perhaps it might also be worth reading The Origin of Species. Many claim to understand the theory of natural selection that governs all life on Earth for example, but few are prepared to accept that the "harmony" and "balance" currently peddled by some utopians is actually based on a fierce and frequently fatal struggle for life:

“We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey; we do not always bear in mind, that, though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year.” Charles Darwin

If you want to understand ecology, you need to understand how important death is. In fact, populations generally appear sustainable because of death, and what applies to the rest of nature must surely applies to us. I realise that most of those telling us to get back to nature have absolutely no idea what nature actually involves, but that doesn't change what it involves:

“Nothing is easier than to admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult—at least I have found it so—than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind. Yet unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, the whole economy of nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood.” Charles Darwin

Our behaviour thus far has been a predictable consequence of natural selection and so will be the results.

Kind regards,


Brad K. said...


How much of Green Wizardry is a role of sage, how much storyteller/oral historian, and how much bard? Each role can be important in preserving information, and disseminating it in a useful fashion. Do you see these social roles as exclusive - pick one, and concentrate on that social role - or as aspect-of-the-moment of a combined "well-rounded" elder?

In "Dragon Singer", Anne McCaffrey points out that harpers - bards - are agents of change as well as keepers of tradition. On the other hand, Leo Frankowski's "Cross Time Engineer" barely acknowledges the role of music in culture (an impromptu brass rendition of Star Wars themes).

Randolph's Ozark fold tales, with annotations, are illuminating in how much lore is embodied even in ribald story telling ("Pissing in The Snow" comes to mind. I couldn't resist, and it turns out to be fascinating how the stories relate to older collections from Europe and elsewhere.)

ramps said...

Thanks for that JMG.
What struck me most reading through the Master Conserver pdf was how little has changed in the past 25 years. Yet, how many books have been published, and worse, how many millions have been spent and are still being spent, on government projects which come up with the same conclusions again and again. Sure, there are a few technological advances, with higher efficiency stoves and performance insulation, but that's about it.

Plus ca change I guess!

sebzefrog said...

Wizards and Master Craftmen...

What I wanted to mention here concerns difference between wizards and craftmen: A craftman treasures the products of his crafts and aims at perfecting them. A wizard treasures the knowledge of the crafts, and puts them in context. This is why I think JMG starts his green wizard path with a broad pannel of crafts and ideas (adequate technology) and puts them in the even broader context of ecology.

Nevertheless, this path directed toward the making of green wizards can also lead to the making of master craftmen. Some of the readers probably are following a craftman path. Some of us might later on pick on one of the crafts presented and concentrate on them. What really counts there is the pursuit of mastery. And in the end, I really think that the future, any future, needs Master Craftmen as much as Green Wizards.
The danger I see is the same that I banged myself on with respect to public education. The prime goal of the general education was to give a base of knowledge to everyone, that would be a training in clear thinking, useful for bakers as well as for teachers. It became perverted into valuing knowledge and ideas over craftmanship. I have
seen more than enough students who liked a craft and became so called "failures" because they were after a degree. Them, or their families, refused to take up learning a craft, even though it is well known (at least in France) that there actually is lots of work for good craftmen, and very little for someone who gets out of the university with "only" a master.

This comes from what I call "the wizard in the tower" syndrome. At any time wizards are in danger of forgetting that the concepts they are dealing with need to be "grounded" to earth. That they should not be their own only justification. Failure to do so leads to the tendency to consider university professors as the pinacle of what university teaching can produce. We mistake "Professor" and "Master". The pinacle
of achievement is called Mastery. And we ought to remember that craftmanship also leads to mastery. Actually, the "professor" path is only one among the multiple ways to mastery.

Therefore, please, you who might read this, who I don't know, but who is on this path at my side, please remember: follow the sacred fire, this curiosity, this energy that will help you go over the
difficulties that clog the way toward mastery. You don't have to become a wizard. If metal speaks to you more than the reason it melts, if a healty orchard speaks to you more than the link between bees, worms, and plums, please become a Master ironsmith or a Master gardener.

If you had the change to meet one or two masters, you know that then, you'll still know the links between steel and fire, or between plums and bees. You will know it in your bones.

sebzefrog at

tubaplayer said...

Thanks JMG!

Oh, I am so looking forward to what is to follow. It all fits so well with what I am attempting here in my little out of the way corner.

The locals view me with amused indulgence - "Get somebody in with a JCB" "Use a chainsaw"...

No. Scythe, hayfork, spade, mattock, handsaw and hoe are my tools of choice.

I am trying to get a handle on the difficulties that are undoubtedly to follow and in my own way to try to pass on what I learn and my successes and failures to others.

That is why reading your blog weekly is as important to me as weeding the garden or thinking about soil improvement.

Roll on the next installment of Green Wizardry!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and all,

We're quite lucky in Australia because new books are quite expensive. This means that there are a plethora of good second hand book stores. Bill Bryson commented on this fact in his book "Down Under" which is also both an entertaining and well written book.

Can I also recommend to readers that it would be good to obtain back copies of Australian alternative magazines such as Earthgarden (which is awesome!) and Grass Roots as these are both relevant and chock full of useful information as distinct from the 100% advertisements that a lot of magazines have now become! This is relevant because we have poor soils, high temperatures, variable rainfall, and pretty much what the rest of the world is soon to experience thanks to climate wierding.

There's a copy of Basic Ecology on it's way to me and I'll read it when it turns up.

Ecological histories are also important because people tend to think of the ecology as a stable thing when in fact it is quite the opposite. It really is a problem that we live quite long lives, but they are not long enough to get any sense of stewardship over the things that we so quickly use.

Good luck!

Maura said...

My partner is an avid reader of your blog, I an occasional one but only for the reason that I get full chapter and verse anyway every Thursday morning UK time (this is even before he has his shower!).

It was my partner who alerted me to the fact that you have just gone and pinched an idea I had just over 2.5 years ago now!

In the context of a discussion about the Transition Towns movement (I think the movement has a place but I have a few reservations about it, reservations which I have seen voiced elsewhere) I aired the idea of Green Wizards or rather my idea involved two levels: Green Warriors and Green Wizards.

Warriors and Wizards may not be the best of tags, can wizard be applied to those of us who are female for instance, but they were the best tags I could come up with at the time.

I will not elaborate too much as to what I had in mind as I am very interested to see how you develop the idea. But Green Warriors I saw as being people who were sufficiently clear headed enough to grasp what is coming down the pike – that is if anybody can get a real handle on that – and who were willing to take real responsibility in their own lives to tackle the associated issues.

Green Wizards I saw as being the next stage on, somewhat akin to wise advisors, people who had been through their own long initiation process and who were now willing to share their knowledge and experience with a wider audience.

Green Wizards I also saw as being the people concerned with moving our society towards a real and deep understanding and respect for the earth and its ecosystems.

As a biologist and ecologist Odum’s book has been a cherished possession and his systems view is critical to understanding the interconnections in nature. But ultimately, I think we need to move beyond even that to a deeper more reflective relationship with nature. However, that is probably a discussion for another day.

Curiously, some 5 to 6 or more years ago we were on a book shopping venture to Hay on Wye, the second hand bookshop capital of the world, or so it is claimed.

Such ventures are always very painful for our wallets but in one bookshop we spied a large box full of copies of Organic Gardening and Farming dating from 1959 onwards.

Practically, every copy had drawings or instructions on how to construct items ranging from greenhouses to potting tables and more. I grabbed the whole box, commenting at the time to my partner “you know, we will be glad one day that we bought these”

Which leads on to appropriate technology on which I have a few thoughts, but this comment is overlong by now.

Ellen Conneely
Wales, UK

Robert C. Guy said...

"You need to obsess about the way an old-fashioned computer geek obsesses about obscure programming languages. You need to drench yourself in it it until it shows up in your dreams and seeps into your bones." That made me smile and laugh a little, thank you. I ought to laugh at myself for being so odd I suppose but it is as one of my co-workers said some time ago "When he first started working with us [programming though never taken a class in it] all I knew about him was that he dreamed in code and it's like he's always online." I have not in any way kept it a secret that I happen to program for a living and happen to do it here only because it is the clearest road forward to a certain goal that my fiancee and I are working toward though I found this path without looking for it in particular (I did not come to work here with the intention of programming for a living, I hired on originally as a temp for about a year before being hired into my current position some year and a half ago). I certainly appreciated his assistance in building a raised bed garden in the backyard of one of our friends/coworkers who let me occupy part of his yard for the purpose.
I have had the pleasure of discussing at length with my fiancee your writings and ways to observe the meaning of them and I am very excited to have the opportunity to see your finger pointing and the waymarks you are setting up for us to see. Last night as I set about my daily exercise of reviewing information I have gathered from the Net (dozens of books in pdf or text and gigabytes of audio and videos of lectures, instructions and exploration of ideas) and looking further I found videos of a certain Sepp Holzer from Austria during a querying of Google videos on permaculture-esque practices and I wanted to share with any who may want to observe the man and his ways a collection of links that I used to develop the image of him and his ways in my mind:

"It was only in 1995 that we leart, that our unconventional approach to agriculture could be described as Permaculture." (

I am comforted that he did not come to his ideas by saying "I will study this thing I have heard advertised as permaculture and do what they say to do." but rather, as he has said, he 'listened and watched' and learned from the world itself. A clear mind that learned to ally himself with and channel the energies of the natural world. My own long enjoyed symbols of mind entertain the image of this man as hopping down the path from a pool of water carrying water lilies and unafraid of a certain old malevolent willow.

Bill Pulliam said...

As hoped, 7.9 MB of information waiting for me this morning -- wow, what a treasure trove! I have my pleasure reading material for quite a while now, much more fascinating than sparkly vampires. I already want to start adding pages from other websites I have unearthed. Preserving and distributing this material is indeed a valuable service. Will you be able to track the number of times it has been downloaded? I'd be very curious. Since you have dozens of commentors, you must have thousands of regular readers.

Charles said...

You're post is so timely as to be magical.

A few years ago, when I had the epiphany that started the current path of passion dominating my life, I began accumulating endangered knowledge. I've been pretty successfulat the collection, but the sheer amount of it is overwhelming.

What I've lacked was a comprehensive vision on how to organize, preserve, propagate, and pass own this knowledge. My strategy so far, has been to just do what I can on a personal level, but most importantly to teach my kids in the hopes that one of them, growing up in my own little sub-culture will take up the mantle, and with youthful vigor see a path through the wilderness.

'The Green Wizard' idea is inspiring however, and I plan to pursue it. Tongue-in-cheek-wise, I've referred to my endeavors as 'Luddite' even though what I'm after is not the destruction of technology, but the subordination of it. I'm a regular reader of your blog and of your books, but I'll being paying extra attention to this series of essays.

John Michael Greer said...

David, thanks for the link!

Bill, a doctorate in ecology from Odum's own school certainly counts. Not surprising that you get the full meaning of that tricky word "ecosystem"!

Irrational, you're welcome.

David, funny, I was going to quote that a bit further down the road. ;-)

Lamb, thanks for the link, and also the notes on bookstores -- some of the best things in my collection came from very unlikely places, so it's a good reminder.

Risa, I have no idea if that's still around. If it is, it would be worth finding.

Robo, a fine metaphor. Bookbinding and low-tech printing are high on the list of skills I'd like to see preserved.

Lew, scan-and-print is probably the best option we've got for the time being; thanks for mentioning it.

Gabriel, that's a very good question. Printing that uses some form of liquid ink ought to be fine as long as the coloring of the ink isn't fugitive over time. If anyone else has better info, I'd like to hear it.

Subgenius, Lindsay Books is a major fave of mine!

Matthew, you know, it would be a good idea for you to actually sit down and read a book on the science of ecology before jumping to conclusions as you've done. You'll find plenty of discussion of competition, competitive exclusion, food webs (meaning "who gets eaten by whom") and the like.

Brad, the answer varies with each green wizard. There are also other roles: for example, craftsperson, inventor, mad scientist...

Ramps, bingo. Very little has changed in large part because very little funding and attention have been paid to these fields -- so we get to pick up pretty much where the movement left off in the mid-80s.

John Michael Greer said...

Seb, an excellent point. One of the things you may find of interest is the amount of hands-on work I plan on suggesting over the months to come.

Tuba, when people talk about chainsaws, smile. You're the wave of the future.

Cherokee, you certainly may. If you have the chance, a listing of the best Australian appropriate tech books would be worth making, and there will be a place for such lists in the not too distant future. More on this soon!

Eileen, I think it was one of those ideas that was ready to happen.

MaineCelt said...

Back inside after a bit of scything, weeding, watering, tending creatures and listening to the way the land awakes on a hot July partner and I are ready for a break from the intense physicality of the morning, so we sit down and check your report for the week.

Halfway through your post, we look up at the two rough shelves above the desk, laden with the old books we almost didn't dare dust off, the books we now consult almost every day: "The Unheated Greenhouse," "The Manual of Practical Homesteading," "Raising Your Own Meat," some less-elderly texts from Joel Salatin and Eliot Coleman, and on down the line to the ever-amusing but still helpful, "We Farm For a Hobby and Make It Pay."

Yes, ecology and ecological texts are central to the work of homesteading, community re-weaving, and the other challenges at hand, because ecological thought/action is the probiotic remedy for our fractured, disconnected modes of operation. My high school teachers at the Northwest School in Seattle emphasized ecology and holistic thinking, and their lessons have served me better than college and grad school combined.

Count me in for The Quest. Bookstore-spelunking and low-tech idea-sharing are a variation on the theme of hunter-gathering and frugal crop-husbandry. Like seed-savers, all those little bookstores contain hundreds of vital but dormant ideas that beg for active care and promulgation. To this farmer's mind, that sounds like a good way to "farm in the off-season." And if anyone wants to come peruse our bookshelves or learn some of the wisdom we've bumbled into on our farmstead in Maine, well, I guess we're up for that too.

Loveandlight said...

And for those of us who are still puttering around on the 101 level, read The Long Descent so that you have an intellectual framework for explaining what's happening to the few mainstream people who might really want to know. You might just save somebody from mistakenly following some strange bright banner that would lead them marching down a strange dark path! (I ordered my copy from last night.)

Odin's Raven said...

Perhaps you would also like to preserve some Green Man images, such as from
Contemplating these leaves from the Book of Nature might provide a corrective to the kind of frantic shallow literacy and 'education'you and that retired teacher complained about. Maybe people who have developed handcraft skills could make some Green Men as emblems of the movement to preserve a sense of mystery when the lights and the books have gone.

Karen said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

I was thankfully able to find some of your recommendations as used books on (they have an English book section) and they are now ordered and on their way, hopefully to be received by the end of next week.

My next challenge is to download the document with my internet connection...

Siani said...

Sometimes you scare me. LOL I already have most of this stuff and have indeed read it. Lately it's become even more relevant...along with the hunter-gatherer senses.

Good post!

Zin said...

Thanks John,
There are probably many readers here who feel this Green Wizard work is starting a sacred process that is long overdue. There are most likely quite a few others who have already been traveling the path for a while.
It is a path not often traveled in this day of technological overload, but you are blazing an excellent trail for others to follow.
Getting this process going reminds me of a quote that I wrote in one of my first journals back when I first started martial arts.

"I have always known I would take this path, but yesterday I did not know it would be today."

John Michael Greer said...

Robert, good! I've always thought that, though Tolkien didn't mention it, Tom Bombadil's house had passive solar heating.

Bill, I'll ask the CCF webmistress.

Charles, glad to hear it!

Maine, one of the things I was hoping to find out was how many people had the old books still on their shelves, or better yet were using them. Thanks for the encouragement!

Loveandlight, many thanks. Those who aren't familiar with the metaphor can find the details here.

Raven, that's certainly an option, and there are other traditions of imagery that readers might also want to borrow. Still, those are a bit different from the hands-on stuff I plan on covering.

Karen, glad to hear about the books. Good luck with the download!

Siani, just doing my job... ;-)

PanIdaho said...

* Master Conserver handouts ... check

* Printed Master Conserver handouts ... check

* Book(s) on Appropriate Tech... check-times-a-couple-hundred, but hey, always room for more! (well, maybe not, bookshelves are, unfortunately, finite in capacity)

* Ecology books ... ordered and on the way!

Okay, looks like I'm just about ready for class. :-)

Brad K. said...


If not Green Warrior and Green Wizard, how about Green Elder and Green Sage?

I like Elder, myself, as one with experience and knowledge, and having taken some time to thing a few things through. Listening to Elders is often a way to gain wisdom (ahem, one reason I visit JMG); the penalty for ignoring the elder is to risk censure or perhaps social pressure.

The Sage is not such a community/family-minded role, but one more invested in the beauty and study of a topic or body of knowledge.

I like the idea of a Green Craftsman or Green Elder, as being more useful in the long term. A Green Warrior is one that performs actions. Even building a bridge, or a dam, eventually has less impact than a knowledgeable elder. A warrior acts using weapons (what you use to change your opponent's mind, according to Lois McMaster Bujold) and opposes an enemy. Operating in that kind of mindset opens the door to violence and temporary solutions.

PanIdaho said...


Those looking for the Ecology books might want to check eBay as well as I found both of the books mentioned, on there last night.

joanhello said...

If you find yourself in the Portland, Oregon area, your obvious first stop is Powell's City of Books (or maybe the branch called Powell's Books for Home and Garden) but I want to recommend a side trip to a store called Periodicals Paradise that deals in old magazines. They have (or at least used to have when I lived in Portland, before they got gentrified out of their old location on Hawthorne) some fairly complete runs of exactly the sort of naked hippie publications you're describing. Those mags also give you a good dip in hippie culture: the idealization of traditional Third and Fourth World peoples, the religious eclecticism, the quotations from Ivan Illich and Saul Alinsky, the open-mindedness (sometimes shading over into credulity) about certain kinds of supernatural phenomena, the occasional mention of space colonies. They could save a lifelong Christian or rational materialist from a faux pas or two. Periodicals Paradise is in the basement of an antique store called Hollywood Reruns. So far as I've been able to discover, it has no website; there's an email address on its LibraryThing entry, but I don't know whether they do mail order at all. However, if you're in the city with a free afternoon, you can do much worse than just to go down there and browse.

John Michael Greer said...

Panidaho, good. The next lesson is already in draft.

Brad, I understand the attractiveness of respectable titles like "elder" and "sage," but there's a point to the more colorful titles. Imagination is the most potent tool our species has, and drawing on the more evocative images of wizard, warrior, mad scientist, etc. is a good way to tap into that.

Joanhello, I can certainly second the recommendation of Powell's -- that's where I got my copy of The Food And Heat Producing Solar Greenhouse, among other things -- but I haven't been to the other place; I'll have to check it out next time I'm on that side of the continent. More generally, you're right about periodicals -- well worth reading, even if it does involve occasionally rolling your eyes. I've got a bunch of early back issues of Home Power magazine with columns by a guy who thought the laws of thermodynamics didn't apply to him; you get stuff like that, along with the gems.

Steve said...

Thanks for the homework, JMG. I feel lucky to have already started the assignments over the past few years. There's a great used bookstore where my parents live where I've found treasures on gardening, energy conservation, and raising small animals.

Ecology textbook, here I come.

anagnosto said...

An armonic ecology textbook I used to think as the most similar thing to a manual for planet earth and I would like to recommend here is that one by Ramon Magaleff
many of his articles can be found in English on the internet.

lciel said...

We've been out here in the French Pyrenees doing the back-to-the-land thing, complete with own energy, etc. BUT, this summer I'm thinking it may be crunch time: THERE ARE NO BEES! My tomatoes are still in flower, and I have a silent polytunnel: very strange, and sad.

Maybe it's too late??,

Ariel55 said...

Dear John, I'm with you--carry on!

frijolitofarmer said...

This is getting fun. I like the new direction you're taking with this blog. :)

The comments suggest that most of us here have already traveled a good way down this path, but it's good to have an evocative archetype to identify with. Good, solid magic at work here.

Coyote said...

For me there is a certain synchronicity to your post. Just the other day my son discovered H.P. Lovecraft, and he was asking me about ancient information. Hopefully, Lovecraft will add to my son’s a sense of adventure and illustrate the difference between the 1,700 text messages he sent last month, and wisdom collected, processed and stored over generations.
And I just started Vlakto Vedrals’ books on information theory. Sounds like a stretch to your essay’s topic, but information theory is especially relevant to the quest you have lined out. Information theory states that the quantity of information contained within an event is equal to inverse of the probability of that event happening – squared. The event of finding the bong water stained original manuscript of “A Guide to Naked Hippy Living” will have much more information than ordering up “Organic Gardening for Dummies” from Amazon. As with Lovecraft, the quest is part of the event, and may yield as much information as the text itself.
Other green wizard texts may be found in the archives of the extension services of land Grant colleges from 1930’s. These are texts from a catabolic collapse period and offer may solutions for doing more with less. If I were setting the path for the green wizard quest I would also recommend a few spiritual/philosphical texts to be added, namely Thoreau and Muir. Peace JMG, your gifts are appreciated...

Bill Pulliam said...

The thing I really like about this approach, of course, is that it is based on individuals learning from and sharing with individuals, openly, and freely. There may be games with mystical language, but there's not really ideology. A solar greenhouse is just a technique, it is not inherently political.

I feel that we're at a bit of an advantage here in more rural areas because people have a better knowledge base to start from. My neighbors already know a fair bit about gardening, heating with wood, animal husbandry, etc. by conventional means. Much of that knowledge, like basic understanding of how plants and animals and weather operate, will be useful even if many of the particular techniques and tools become useless. Your neighbors may chide you for using a handsaw and axe, not a chainsaw. But at least they understand about cutting, splitting, and seasoning wood. They are also still generally familiar with "old-time" food storage techniques, having seen it in their grandparents cupboards and barns as well as among their Amish, Mennonite, and Not-so-Naked Hippie neighbors. I hope that places like this will see less panic and frantic searching for The Answer and more rolling up the sleeves and putting on the boots to figure out how to deal with things.

Interesting side note -- in my lifetime it has gone from "Mom's Apple Pie" to "Grandma's Apple Pie." In other words, our generation never learned to bake a decent apple pie.

eatclosetohome said...

Am I insane to think this actually sounds kind of fun?

Cathy McGuire said...

I, also, am in after trying to squeeze a day’s work into the cool part of what will be a day in the high 90’s… This is a wonderful post! And it feels good to be able to say that I’m already moving forward on most of your suggestions. I can’t resist used bookstores, nor old books on almost any craft, including homesteading… so I have many old books of that sort. I haven’t seen anyone mention “The Mother Earth News Handbook of Homemade Power”, a small but chock-ful paperback. And a new book that I love reading is “Life in the Soil” by James Nardi – it starts with microbes and works up in size order! Love it!

And I also hope you will mention saving books in other craft areas – there was a renaissance of handcrafting in the 70’s and I have been saving all the books on embroidery, sewing, macramé, knitting/crochet, etc. – because they, too, will be needed (and I love doing all that). I’m so glad to see the next generation becoming intrigued with these skills. As I mentioned before, I have some pioneer cookbooks and ones from the twenties.

Bookbinding and low-tech printing are high on the list of skills I'd like to see preserved.
I’m with you on that!! I actually had an old handcranked newspaper printing press (heavier than a piano) and a cabinet of fonts, but due to life changes, hand to give it up – but it went to some enthused youngsters (and I kept two drawers of font and all my printing inks/tools). Have no fear: Portland OR has a great hand printing center, and you can get a degree in bookarts from OR College of Arts. I also have books on those related skills, since I’ve done bookarts for decades. A lovely one from mcmxlviii (1928?) “Wood Engraving” by R.J. Beedham – and let’s not forget all the herbals and home remedies! Those have to be used carefully (some old folk remedies are deadly) but have much of value.

@JoanHello ...a store called Periodicals Paradise – oh, my – memory lane! I almost used to live there… one of the cheapest places to get the older art magazines (which were very expensive new) but I couldn’t resist the Organic gardening and Mother Earth News and others… glad to hear it at least survived its move from Hawthorne. It used to be on Powell, originally…

Thanks, everyone for all the suggestions! I will be very busy tracking them all down! And I have downloaded the pdf file, and will print it once I'm sure my cartridge has enough ink.

Penumbra said...

I am too awestruck to speak clearly yet and too enthusiastic to not say something. So here it is: Awesome and inspiring

I created a favorite tab call Gaianomicon and posted your link and the first comments into it. Having done that I am about to run out the door and scrounge this delicious old used bookstore. It is in a run down small industrial section with cheap rents and plenty of room to keep odd dusty books around.

I am so thankful for you and your work JM.

Inspired as always

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

I love the focus on reading, learning and doing.

OK. Finished Small is Beautiful and Collapse of Complex Civilizations. Ecotechnic Future is next. Downloaded Master Conserver PDF. It looks as though it will be useful as my husband and I work on our own very old house. Will look for other books.

Is there any room for fields of knowledge in your archetypal schema? Or does everyone have to know "everything"?

As mentioned before, have spent much time "obsessing" on my local ecosystem, native plants and ecological gardening (am now learning propagation techniques), and am fortunate enough to have a couple of ecologists as mentors. But, don't know much about other appropriate technologies.

Would like to recommend, besides Gaia's Garden, Food Not Lawns by H.C. Flores--a good overview of ecological gardening and living.

Would also like to recommend Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac and all of Thoreau's essays. That's where I started my own ecosystem-focused journey.

DeVaul said...

Don't forget that many small used bookstores are run by "hobbyists". I learned this from trying to clear out a house filled with over 5,000 books so that it could be rented or sold. I learned that many of these hobbyists keep a huge stock of books in storage somewhere, so what you see in the store may only be the tip of the iceberg.

If you don't find what you are looking for, ask if they keep books stored somewhere. They might be willing to let you search through them since they are just doing it for personal interest.


Don Plummer said...

Which edition of Odum's Fundamentals of Ecology is best? Several are available.

phil harris said...

Great start to the course.

By co-incidence I listened this morning to a BBC 45 minutes discussion of Pliny the Elder,
His 'encyclopedia' became essential reading through the middle ages after the contraction of the Roman Empire's knowledge base and tradition of scholarship. Europe lost a lot despite Pliny and other surviving texts - my understanding from reading elsewhere suggests that for example Roman waterproof concrete didn't make it (aqueducts, water cisterns and harbors?). And old Pliny didn't always get it right.
Guess we have a chance to do a lot better.

justjohn said...

I hope this is OK, but in the spirit of making more copies of this I've loaded it on two file sharing sites:


(I didn't see a copyright on the document)
I'll try to print out a copy later, maybe after finding some higher quality paper.

Just picked up two of your latest books via inter-library loan. Sorry there isn't much profit in that for you!

Justin Patrick Moore said...

I accept the challenge. I'll print this out, and use the back pages for my own notes, as I study. It's nice to hear about appropriate tech on this blog. I enjoy reading about appropriate tech from the likes of Wendell Berry who often discusses it in relationship to the Amish, who as he points, have been one community who have consistently decided to put a limit to the technology they use.

tickmeister said...

I believe I'll tag along for this little quest. I was on board the first foray back in the late 70's, built solar panels etc. Also built a semi-underground house from mostly salaged material, heated by local wood, still living in it. It has saved me a pile of money. I think I am ready to jump back in now and build a small cabin totally off grid and see how that works. Thanks for the inspiration.

Matt and Jess said...

Woohoo! I'm excited to get started learning all of this. Too bad you're not accredited and certified for the gi bill :)

DPW said...

I know this isn't exactly your realm, but the wizard also needs to know its way around certain aspects of psychology as well in order to be able to inspire and lead with its master-knowledge.

I've been exploring the work of Dr. Dan Siegel who has a few videos, TED talks, etc. on the webs and an excellent new book called "Mindsight". He's basically exploring how the human brain is wired, how it can be re-wired, and what our new knowledge of brain science implies when it comes to learning, leading, and living a more stable/happy life. He champions the 4-"R"s. Reading, Writing, 'Rithmatic, and Reflection.

It's not the kind of crap "Brightsided" argues against. It's hard-core science that just so happens to prove what the Buddha stumbled on years ago...and quite a few others.

Anyway, for those who are struggling with the psychological dimension of all this, or who want to learn how to be more effective leaders (more productive than wearing a sandwich board and ringing a bell), I suggest a library hold of said book.

The Onion said...

This is the kind of mission that speaks to me, because friends have been known to poke fun at me for my love of obscure facts. Green Wizardry..hmm. How appropriate that I have already been scouring the internet in search of sources of information, with an eye for the simple and low tech.

I wonder if a guild system will evolve.

Sarah said...

Mr. Greer,

I read your posts eagerly each Thursday morning. Thank you so much for your vision.

As a high school librarian, I carefully weed around the practical skills books on topics such as building and cooking with solar ovens, weaving, and alternative energies, even though, sadly enough, these are not in our curriculum. I know where the Naked Hippie Books section in our fabulous local used book store is, even though it is not labeled as such. I have picked up books on practical skills over the years at used book sales, used book stores, thrift shops, and garage sales -- one of my first about 17 years ago was a copy of The Integral Urban House in great condition. And now I know why. I don't know if I'm up to being a Green Wizard, but perhaps I can be a Green Librarian.

Thanks for all you do here!

DPW said...

I'm looking forward to participating in the project from the standpoint of a city apartment dweller; so I'll read the ecology stuff for sure and at least skim the appropriate tech. Unfortunately, I don't really have much of a way to get my hands dirty at this point though. I chose to move to a relatively expensive condo development (renting) to be 3 blocks from my work and to experiment with living in a relatively small space (600sqft) for two people. The building itself is incredibly efficient and I really don't have to drive my car other than for big/heavy/long errands. My appropriate tech effort right now is learning to cook from scratch with farmer's market foods and minimal gadgets and changing my mindset about needs (clothes, tech, etc.)...and staying healthy...mentally and physically, while everything around crumbles bit by bit.

At some point (<2 years) I'd like to find a job in a more rural part of the country, but for now, I'm going to live as best I can while minimizing my carbon feet in the city. Living in a small(er) space now should also help if/when we get a chance to head to a smaller town, though it will in no way prepare me for the cultural dynamics... Still, I see building and living in a super-insulated, low-tech 500 sqft cabin as a nice next step towards more redundant sufficiency (along with a larger barn/work area and garden room). I'd do that now, but unfortunately, land anywhere near where I currently work is still over $100K for anything decent and would entail a 1.5hr commute, so that dream is a little ways away. There are places where I could afford to buy a more standard home to retrofit, but again, commute time...and then there's the likelihood of further RE collapse and not wanting that albatross of debt...

So, for now I have to live in the skin I inhabit and see what comes, but I'll still enjoy learning through others and playing house so to speak ;) Maybe I'll find another way to get involved; habitat for humanity, or something else to build practical skills (pun intended).

And yes, I do have a bit of me that fears the feral aspects of city if the Long Descent has a couple unexpected and rather abrupt dropoffs, but all life involves risks I guess.

Anne said...

Thanks for the recommendations. The PDF has been downloaded but I need to get paper & ink to print it. I would not normally print out a document that long, but there is a reason to print it in this case.

I have a quantity of sustainability type books already although generally of a more recent vintage than the ones you recommend, and having bought some of this type of book on Amazon (secondhand as much as possible), I get recommendations from Amazon on other similar stuff to buy, which is how I heard about the Long Descent. So it is worth checking out Amazon for this kind of book.

I will go on the used bookstore quest in the near future. I will actually be passing by Hay-on-Wye in a couple of weeks time - so you have just given me a reason to spend a few hours going round the bookshops there, even though the house is already over-run with books!

Second-hand booksellers often do a lot of their business from on-line orders nowadays so it is worth checking out what is around on-line.

Charity shops and charity stalls at events can also be good places to pick up interesting second-hand books at very cheap prices. I got a great hardback guide to Alternative Medicine for 50 pence on a charity stall at an event I was at last weekend.

One final point - a lot of information about ecology, permaculture gardening etc relates to specific bio-regions so it is important to get information that is relevant to the kind of area you live in. For example the original permaculture books were written from an Australian perspective and although the basic principles can be applied anywhere a lot of the specifics are not so relevant. So I have books on permaculture that have been written by UK authors from a UK perspective which is more relevant to me.

It would be useful to have a place where a list of useful books could be posted and which people could add to and check out on an ongoing basis, which doesn't really work in a blog and comments format - maybe we need a web resource in addition to this blog which could be used in that way.

Rudi said...

I'm on board with the class, and at the same time thinking something not entirely relevant.

The most important things preserved by monasticism in the west after the fall of Rome were not technological, but religious and philosophical -- transformed, to be sure, but still the great spiritual and intellectual treasures of antiquity were preserved by monasticism.

The question I keep thinking is this: what are the spiritual and intellectual treasures of modernity that also deserve such determined conservation? (Leaving aside the question of what social forms might develop to enact that conservation.)

There's the practical, which this new series of posts seems eminently prepared to address. But there's also the more-than-practical, which has, to say the least, a bearing on whether the descent will be thoroughly marked with social chaos, or if we might be able to hang on to some perennial values of western culture on the way down.

Mark said...

Like Risa said, now we're into the nitty gritty. Fantastic!

I like that you've wrapped this all in mythology, as it brings more excitement and imagination to the task. Let's hope many of your readers will catch on this way.

I've been unknowingly practicing this green wizardry for a few years now and it was mainly through trial and error, with some added reading and study in books or other text. One book that was particularly helpful in my garden work and that I recommend as a good basis is Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway.

I'll be in search of the texts you describe -- I would greatly appreciate some text on ecology from that time period. I'm glad to be co-creating this world of green wizardry. Compost and seeds are magical indeed...

John Michael Greer said...

At this point comments are coming in so fast that I'm sorry to say I'm going to have to limit responses to substantive questions and the like. To all who posted their enthusiasm and encouragement, don't think I'm not grateful -- it's just that there's only so many hours in a day.

Iciel, what that means is that it's time to get into raising our own pollinators; I'll be covering that in detail down the road a bit. In the meantime, get a little brush and dab it inside your tomato flowers, going from flower to flower. It's inefficient compared to bees, but you can get pollination done that way.

Close to home, nope. It is kind of fun. Real learning is, which is one of the grudges I have against the education industry.

Cathy, there's an infinite number of useful skills that people can choose to save right now; that's the reason I helped launch the Cultural Conservers Foundation, which is focused on that (and is about to apply for its 501(c)3 tax exempt status). The green wizards project is a bit more focused.

Adrian, every green wizard I ever met has had a different set of fields of expertise. Nobody can possibly know everything! There are some core concepts and techniques that everybody ought to know, but after that, it's a matter of choosing the things you want to focus on.

Don, any of 'em ought to be good. I have the third, for whatever that's worth.

Justjohn, the Master Conserver material is in the public domain, so you're welcome to post elsewhere.

John Michael Greer said...

BTW, for all who have inquired about a forum and a place to post information, help is on the way. I've purchased the domain and a website is being set up there by our own PanIdaho. I'll post an announcement when it's ready to roll.

Kevin said...

I very much appreciate the PDFs, both yours and David's. There's so much to learn. Ready to roll!

PanIdaho said...

FYI - pollinating tomatoes is even easier than daubing with a brush, as they are self pollinating and all the relevant parts are encased in that little pointy cone of petals in the middle...

All you have to do for tomatoes is give the vines a bit of a snappy "shake" every day or so. If they are caged, you can do that easily by rapping the cage frames a few times. This shakes the pollen from the stamens down to the pistil, and you get pollination. Some folks like to attend to each flower cluster individually, gently thumping it a few times, but from experience (raising tomatoes in the home greenhouse in the winter) I have discovered that vibrating the whole plant now and then does just fine.

Fleecenik Farm said...

I'll just add my one little suggestion

I am a member of paperback I have been fortunate to find several very useful books while swapping books that I no longer need.

I was able to procure the Rodale book of herbalism along with many books on traditional craft.

Alchemyguy said...

What Carolyn expresses in the linked blog post is what I realized during my second year of my university education; success in post-secondary comes from gaming the system and the result is credentialed cogs ready to slot into the Big Machine, not citizens. I could pontificate for ages on the topic, but who wants to hear that?

She mentions The Teaching Company, and I would wholly endorse laying your hands on their lectures in fields you find interest in.

As for mastering a set of knowledge, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that it's not just ecology, energy efficiency and food production; There are plenty of other disciplines that require, er, disciples. JMG has touched on a few in the past, including radio. I have a couple of delightful books, courtesy Lindsay Publications, on 19th century chemical technology and metallurgy. The ability to perform electronic sorcery and chemical transformations are powerful magic in themselves, and I'm sure other appropriate technologies could be added to the list.

Kevin said...

I've been thinking about stone masonry as a skill for conservers to develop. There should be plenty of cheap labor in future for stone cutting, and rocks are one mineral resource that's not likely to run out too soon.

Here's one for JMG:

Might already have it, of course.

John Michael Greer said...

Alchemyguy, granted, and that's why I helped start the Cultural Conservers Foundation. The Green Wizard project, as I conceive it, is more focused.

Kevin, it's been on my shelf since it first came out! I hope to help site, design, and raise a stone circle one of these days; most Druids do.

Lance Michael Foster said...

Since you mentioned curiosity about what books we might have, I have been finding and collecting bits and pieces of this kind of info since I was a teen (weird kid eh)...Taking a quick look at my selves for the older books (and I have more in the garage) I have Rainbook, a bunch of the old 70s Mother Earth News, Richard Langer's Grow It! The Beginner's Complete in-Harmony-with-Nature Small Farm Guide (1972), Bill Kaysing's First-Time Farmer's Guide (1971), Rodale's Managing Your Personal Food Supply (1977), and The Circle of Useful Knowledge (1874). I have others like these too, from the 70s and a couple others on farming and mechanics from the late 1800s, this is just a selection.

The Circle of Useful Knowledge has some pretty interesting things...these are the sections:
1. Information on Horses, Cattle, and Farming
2. Grocer's and Manufacturer's Department
3. Druggist's Department
4. Ladies' Department
5. Carpenter's and Builder's Department
6. Valuable Information for Wine Merchants, Bar-keepers, etc.
7. Dyeing Department
8. Business and Legal Forms
9. Miscellaneous Department
10. Mensuration for Carpenters, Builders, Machinists, Surveyors, etc.
11. Various Tables, Weights, Measures, Ready-Reckoners, and Gauging

Hal said...

JMG, this is slightly older than the material you're recommending, and it's arguable as to whether it could be considered app tech, but since you've relocated tolerably close to the South, you might be interested in this reference:

Porcher, Francis Peyre, 1863, Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical, Economical, and Agricultural. Being also a Medical Botany of the Confederate States; with Practical Information on the Useful Properties of the Trees, Plants, and Shrubs

Here's the best link I could find. I'm not sure how to order it, but it was in print not too long ago.

Ruben said...

@JMG, if you want to raise a stone circle, check out this guy's website. Huge blocks--moved by hand.

Chris said...

My family is in the middle of building an earthship (

I've been puzzling my way through a DC electrical system and have started thinking about solar hot water. The PDF that you attached to your post has some great (and detailed) information.

Thank You! (and I hope to pass on this information to others)


PS - I liked the post too ...

Barry said...

Don't forget the Foxfire series of books. They tell how my old Appalachian grandpappy did it!

SophieGale said...

American Botanist is a used/rare/out-of-print bookseller in Central Illinois:

BTW, this is the path I've been groping after for the last six months... Set up Central Illinois Green Wizards on Yahoo Groups and started recruiting the local Pagans. Will hit the local sustainability groups next. We'll see who bites.

straker said...

I was reading through the PDF and it reminded me of what Michael Reynolds Earthships books read like, because those books go back a ways also. Mr. Greer, what do you think of him?

I know we're pretty much stuck with the housing stock we've got, but if you're going to wade into the waters of home energy usage, it seems logical to weigh in on him.

AussieGal said...

Excellent!! I've been collecting books also. You have reminded me of the files I am yet to print that I have stored on my computer. One of which is...
Handy Farm Devices and how to make them by Rolfe Cobleigh 1910
Handy Farm Devices

It's about 4.7mb
Here is the introduction

By Way of Introduction
SUCCESS comes to the man who so works that his efforts will bring the most and the best results -- not to the man who simply works hard. It is the know-how, things-to-do-with and economy that count. Labor-saving machinery has revolutionized many a trade and industry. It has made farming an industry and a science of possibilities undreamed of and unattainable a hundred years ago. But it is not enough for the modern farm to be equipped with the best tools and machinery that shops and factories turn out, to know how to use them and keep them in repair. There are many handy devices, not made in any factory and not sold in any store, that every intelligent man can make himself, which save money and labor and time. Inventive men are constantly contriving simple but valuable things to meet the needs of their own practical experience. We are all the time hunting after and gathering these ideas. Now we are putting a lot of the best ones into this book. We are trying, by words and pictures, to explain clearly just how to make each device. Everything described is tried and practical. Some are old, many are new, all are good for the purpose intended. They represent the practical, successful experience of farmers and other wide-awake workers all over the United States.

This book is broader than its title. The overflow of good measure includes a valuable chapter on the steel square and its uses. Nowhere else has this subject been handled in a way so easily understood, with confusing mathematics cut out. We especially commend this chapter to our readers. We also present some good house and barn plans, that will be appreciated by those who contemplate building.

In addition to the direct benefit to be derived from doing what the book tells how to do, we have in mind the larger purpose of education toward putting more thought into our work and doing what we have to do the easiest, the cheapest and the quickest way. Out of it all, we trust our readers will make progress toward greater prosperity, greater happiness and greater usefulness.

Blagroll said...

Go raith maith míle agat, Mícháel, agus daoine eile.

Thank Michael and esteemed others for the downloads and links. Brave stuff.

I was wondering if making changes in consciousness in accordance with will has a relative in serendipity? The county council is having its first composting day. I've recently enrolled for a full time, year long class in ecology. One of just a few dedicated courses in the entire country, and its being taught in an out of way place in my county.

Anyhow, will the psychology with respect to discipline and routine be covered?

(Unfortunately, our second hand book shops were decimated in the ponzi property scheme. Old buildings and businesses replaced by cut and paste office blocks across the land. I'll muddle through some other way.)


sebzefrog said...

Let's share our failures...

As I was thinking about all the enthusiasm that the Green Wizard archetype was encountering, I remembered about few experiences I had that I thought worth to share.
As part of my job, and by pleasure, I often am in the situation of vulgarizing things like astrophysics, quantum mechanics, and lots of other physics that people find "cool". And they are. Very often, I find out that it encounters or creates lots of enthusiasm and I am asked about books to learn more about them. Inevitably, I end up killing tinkerbell, by saying that yes, at some points, one has to deal with the tough reality of learning calculus.
I had other experiences like that, but the most archetypal was about this student told me he was very eager to do a PhD with us, but that computing was out of question. It is like wanting to be an ironsmith and saying that well, loud sounds bother you, and by the way, you can't bear high temperatures. And if we could please keep liftiing heavy hammers to a minimum, that would do just fine.
The point I want to make here is that *all* path come with hills and stones. The Green Wizard one too, and I don't expect our dear Archdruid to be one to cheat us on that. At some point, things will get tough, really. Failure, difficulties, and the desire to give up
are part of the path.
The reason I can tell is that I have been there. And actually get there on a regular basis. I therefore wanted to share my experience on 3 things that can help get over it.
First, drawing on the "sacred fire" that made you start on this journey. The Green Wizard archetype is a very potent one in my opinion, and it could do just fine. Remember the elation you felt when you decided to go there. Feed it each time you can with the unique feeling of a success you shaped yourself. And force yourself to remember it when things are tough.
Second, remember that you are not alone. Look around the posts here, and you'll see people who manage to live off-grid, who cut wood without a chainsaw, who are iron smith or very good gardners. They did it. Therefore it is possible. And remember an interesting mathematical fact. Someone ten steps ahead, made ten times what you did. Someone doing one steps made infinitely more than one who did not.
Third, remember that you are not alone. It means in failure also. And that failing something does not mean one is a failure. A well analyzed failure can teach more than an un-analysed success.
This is why I entitled my post "Lets share our failures", as a concreete, applicable thing we can do. Practically, I don't know how the greenwizard website will be designed, but I think it should hold a
"failed attempts" section, where the discussion is about analysing failures and aiming at making them successes. (BTW, dear Archdruid, I am interested enough to volunteer some of my time to help organize and animate this. If you find it worth a shoot, please contact me)

Sebzefrog at

Don Plummer said...

Since one or two comments mentioned books from the nineteenth century, I thought I would let readers know that I have another one: Downing's Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, by A. J. Downing and published in 1870. It has detailed descriptions of fruit cultivars--especially apples--some of which no doubt are extinct or very rare. Anyone interested in "heirloom" fruit varieties might want to take a look at it. The book is in excellent condition, considering its age.

pfh said...

Marshall Mcluhan said "the medium is the message", which I couldn't make any but the vaguest sense of for a very long time. Then I realized how to demystify it. It's really a broad insight into the nature of complex systems, they all have their own languages. Because systems develop their own languages any bit of informaion only has the meanings given to it by the language that reads it... So, "the [language] medium is the message" is a way to turn the insight into common sense, without losing the mystery.

So, first off, I think "green wizzards" are people who realize that every separate language in nature creates its own meanings... and that generally how the communities of nature joined by their language will physically react to the same information will be distinctly different.

I think that's how to begin to untangle the reasons why the social networks of the environmental community all continue to believe social action that makes the economy more efficient will reduce resource depletion and conflicts when the physical system they are acting on responds to a different drummer, i.e. the opposite way.

KevinC said...

JMG, thanks for that link! I've downloaded that segment of the Gaianomicon and I'll try to spread it around as much as I can. Sorry it took me so long to write a response to you and your fellow commentators' replies to my comments on the "Waiting for the Millennium" thread. It's long, and I figured you (JMG) would prefer I not bombard your comment thread with a multi-part response since that would raise your post-moderating workload.

If you and/or others who comment here consider "Traditional Cities + Trains + Renewable Energy" to be a dangerous incantation, you're welcome to come over and show me I'm wrong.

Also, Wordek, I got the impression from one of your comments that you might have got the impression from mine that I'm the author of the site that I linked to several times. Just to make sure credit goes where it's due, I'm not.

Back on topic:

Is the ecotechnic knowledge of the '70's really Lost Lore? It seems to me that a lot of it is still extant and in use. A few examples:

And a couple items from my Amazon Wish List:

A Safe and Sustainable World: The Promise of Ecological Design

Edible-Forest-Gardens (two volume set).

If you look them up on Amazon, each links to several other related titles. You and most of the others here have more experience in this area than I do, so maybe you know something I don't about why the old grimoires are better than the newer ones in print. Other than price (scoring a volume on ecology or ecological design for a buck in a used book store beats $16-$30+ for a new book if the info is the same), what do the old "lost" books have that new ones lack?

Thanks for the info, JMG!

[P.S. Sorry if you got this multiple times. I kept getting a Google error message saying that a url was too long, then when I came back to cut hyperlink lengths I got another message saying it had been sent. Feel free to delete this part in brackets.]
Captcha: degaz: A Spanish impressionist artist who might have been famous if the French guy hadn't beaten him to the punch. ;)

Alchemyguy said...

@Lance: Those sort of "compedium of general knowledge" books seem to have been very popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. I've always found them to be incredibly interesting. They seem to suggest to me that as far as 1895 man was concerned no skill was beyond him. It's a small leap from that to "we are capable of anything", but I think there is an important distinction there; a general handiness was expected of all people in that time that appears absolutely lacking now.

Bill Pulliam said...

Just acquired my first scythe, assembled it and tried it out. Works wonderfully well already and I'm just barely starting to get the "swing" of it. I'm going to make sure all my neighbors see me using it as they drive past. That way, at some future point when they begin to have trouble keeping up their gasoline and diesel powered mowers and bushhogs, they will know what the alternative is. If they ask, I'll be happy to help them figure out where to get one and how to use it. Even the Amish around here have taken to using gasoline weedeaters and mowers, sigh...

darius said...

I hope to have time soon to start a list of books I have and can recommend. One solar primer is essential to me even though basic: The Passive Solar Energy Book (Expanded Professional Edition), by Edward Mazria. The charts of degree days will be outdated, thanks to Global Weirding, but the basics of sun, shade, air movement and how they affect choosing a site don't change. This version came with some clear templates for calculations in a pocket on the back cover.

Don't forget to include some fun and visually inspiring books; in my building section I have several small and whimsical volumes on dwellings hidden in the woods which would never pass any building codes, and houses on wheels from the naked hippies.

joanhello said...

@Coyote; there really is a guide to naked hippie living. It's called “Living on the Earth” and it was hand-scribbled by Alicia Bay Laurel in 1970. My first copy (bought around 1975) did, indeed, have bong water stains. When it was lost to mildew in storage a few years ago, I went to replace it and discovered that she revised it in 2000. The formula for herbal shampoo that started with Woolite(tm) is gone, replaced by one based on castile soap, and the recipe section has fattened considerably (sunflower milk, anyone?) but most of the good stuff, from DIY musical instruments to “Bathing where water is scarce” to cooking with acorns to home birth, is still there. Has a drawing of a naked hippie right on the cover! (How did that get past the publisher in these prudish times?) Much good stuff in the "further reading" section, too. She's no purist (still recommends polyurethane sealant for the roof of your handbuilt home) but overall this is a fine starting point for someone just dipping their toes in the frugal living water.

Steve said...


How is it that your recommendations so closely reflect the life I find myself pursuing?

As you describe, the overload of "information", I prefer the term "noise", in contemporary society serves as a distraction, a new opiate of the masses, to paraprhase Marx. The good news, if my experiences are any indication, is our natural skills for processing information are undamaged, although atrophied. The challenge is tuning out the noise and finding an appropriate source of "natural information". I find it in my local Community Garden where I manage the communal composting effort while I listen to my potato, pepper and corn plants. Forking over an active compost pile or sitting among your vegetables offers unlimited opportunity for soaking in natural information that nourishes your soul. It is my mission as a WIT, Wizard in Training, to be prepared to help the willing discard their opiates and experience the wonder and mystery of Gaia.

In solidarity, Steve.

Ruben said...

Did I forget the link? Here it is--how to move giant stone blocks by hand
Pyramids, Stonehenge, Easter Island and the Great Pyramid explained by Wallace Wallington!

John Michael Greer said...

Straker, for those who have the option of building a new home from the ground up (or down!), Reynolds' work is excellent. Since most of us will be retrofitting instead, there are limits to its general applicability, but for what it is, his stuff is great.

Blagroll, thank you! Yes, we'll be getting to that, in a variety of not always direct ways.

Seb, well put. There's always a choice to be made if you're studying anything, and that's whether you're willing to invest the (often considerable) time and energy needed to learn it. Enthusiasm is part of the answer, but of course there are also people who realize that this isn't the time for them to do whatever it is, and that also has to be honored.

Kevin, it's not so much lost as mislaid! Still, there's a difference between a lot of what passes for green design these days and the old appropriate tech stuff, and it's measured in dollars. A lot of the current stuff assumes you have plenty of money and can hire contractors to do the work for you. The old stuff was very much about doing it yourself, on the cheap. As the global economy continues to unravel, the latter is going to be more functional for many people.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...


Academic resources

1) "Odum's Fundamentals of Ecology 5th edition, 2004, is co-authored by Odum's protege Gary Barrett and represents the last academic text Odum produced. The text retains its classic holistic approach to ecosystem science, but incorporates and integrates an evolutionary approach as well. In keeping with a greater temporal/spatial approach to ecology, new chapters in landscape ecology, regional ecology, and global ecology have been added building on the levels-of-organization hierarchy. Also, a final chapter entitled 'Statistical Thinking for Students of Ecology' provides a quantitative synthesis to the field of statistics."

A recent summer institute course on Ecology and Health at the University of Hawai'i at Mainoa has posted several excerpts (as well as other interesting material) at

2) MITOpenCourseWare has a syllabus, readings, lecture notes, problem sets, exams, etc. for "Ecology I: The Earth System" at

ecological ignorance (or so it seems to me)

Robert Jensen recently published an essay "The Anguish of the Age: Emotional Reactions to Collapse", and after reading it I went on to his earlier piece "The Delusion Revolution" from August 2008. In reading the latter, I was struck by a couple of assertions which seem to me to be counter-factual.
Jensen states "Ecologically, the invention of agriculture kicked off an intensive human assault on natural systems. By that I don't mean that gathering-hunting humans never did damage to a local ecosystem, but only that the large-scale destruction we cope with today has its origins in agriculture, in the way humans have exhausted the energy-rich carbon of the soil, what Jackson would call the first step in the entrenchment of an extractive economy. Human agricultural practices vary from place to place but have never been sustainable over the long term." [My emphasis added.]

The phrase I've put in bold seems to me to show that Jensen clearly misunderstand what soil exhaustion is, as well as where carbon is and its role in plant growth. I also believe Jensen is wrong in saying that agricultural practices everywhere have never been sustainable over the long term. As a child, I lived for a year in Japan, where night soil was collected in "honey buckets" and put on the fields (they used humanure, applying a word I've learned from a commenter here.) Whether or not humanure is used, animal or vegetable manuring can maintain soil productivity, and I have the impression (perhaps mistaken) that those beautifully terraced rice fields on hillsides which one sees pictures of have been there for a long time.

John Michael Greer said...

And a note to everyone who has PDFs of out of print books relevant to this sort of work: in a bit, once I've made appropriate arrangements, I'd like to ask you to send a copy to the CCF so it can be posted on their website for free download. Might as well get 'em back into circulation!

John Michael Greer said...

Ruben, you did indeed! Thanks for filling it in.

Charley, yes, it's unfortunate that a lot of people who borrow the label of ecology haven't actually studied the science. As FH King pointed out a long time ago in Farmers of Forty Centuries, agriculture done right can be sustainable over nearly geological time scales; East Asian paddy rice culture is a good example. We'll be talking a lot about soil in the months to come, and I hope that apprentice green wizards will get to the point that they can look at claims like that, roll their eyes, and take the day's vegetable scraps out to the compost bin to replenish their own soil.

John Michael Greer said...

By the way, if you get a screen with the Google logo on it saying that your message was too large, it's lying. Hit the back button on your browser and you should find the little notification saying that your message is awaiting moderation. Blogger is having serious problems right now...

sgage said...


I have 2 scythes, a long-blade and a shorter-blade. When you learn how to keep them sharp, and learn the rhythm of using them, it is astonishing how much you can do with them.

Another great tool is the azada - basically an ergonomically-improved grubhoe. There is nothing like it for making potato trenches, or whipping up new raised beds out of weed-grown turf. Etc. Something about the sharpness of the blade and the leverage of the whole thing just gets the job done.

I have no affiliation with these people, but can highly recommend the products and the service:

sgage said...

JMG - you asked for PDF's of out-of-print and public domain resources that might be germane to the path of Green Wizardry.

Well, here's a fantastic resource:

If you're not familiar with the Soil and Health Library, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG wrote: "A lot of the current stuff assumes you have plenty of money and can hire contractors to do the work for you. "

A prime example of this is the ground-source heat pump (usually incorrectly called "geothermal heating.") They are being heavily promoted here in the mid-south where the climate is just right for them. I looked long and hard into them for any examples of instances where someone did it themselves. I could find NOTHING but high-end, contractor-installed (with sub contractors and sub-sub contractors) systems that would run at least $10K before all was said and done. There didn't seem to be any good reason why a DIY household who has experience with HVAC and a friend with a backhoe would not be able to put this together him/her self, but I found absolutely no guidance and I don't know near enough about the engineering involved to try it myself as the guinea pig. Surely someone can rig up a system that could use less than $5000 in materials and $8000 in labor that would accomplish the same simple task (running a heat pump using a recirculating buried coolant loop rather than ambient air as the heat source/sink). Can't anyone figure out a simple system of cheaper part and pumps that would convert an air source heat pump into a water source one, and an equally frugal system to operate the ground loop?

As it now stands, this is a lovely technology for the upper middle class with plenty of money in the bank, or for someone who is still not afraid to go over their head in to debt. Al Gore had no problem putting one in his energy-hogging mansion when the media got after him. Given that it is tied to and ultimately limited by grid electricity, I can't see spending most of our remaining cash reserves on something like that given how many other demands there are.

sgage said...


I still have an original copy of Alicia Bay Laurel's "Living on the Earth". I had given it to my mother as a birthday present when it first came out, and she gave it back to me when I got my own "place in the country".

I had no idea there was a new edition. In many ways it sums up a lot of what the early 70's was to me.

I have lots and lots of books from that era, though I must admit most of them are in boxes. My parents moved from the CT coast to a piece of raw forest land in rural VT in the early 70's, and did the homesteading thing to a fare-thee-well.

This essay and its comments have me full of nostalgia, even as I realize I'm living that same thing right now on my place.

Time is strange, ain't it?

Jeffrey said...

I have been mentoring to a number of young people who are interested in sustainability etc. to please start with a strong foundation on ecological principals. This cannot be emphasized enough. Just imagine China for example gaining an expertise is sustainability and efficiency but applying this only to replacing natural ecosystems over to artificial human landscapes with our slave animal and plant species together with habitats that end up being full of species only found in disturbed habitats!

There is a Buddhist saying around the right tension on the guitar string to make music in reference to the interplay between compassion and wisdom. To much wisdom and no compassion and the guitar string snaps. Too much compassion and no wisdom and the guitar string makes no music for lack of tension.

Book knowledge on ecology is a critical component but it has to be grounded with spending a lot of time in the field. You will never understand ecological principals if you don't spend time in the woods.

And the best part about spending time in nature is that it is free and available even in the worst economic times.

The most compelling part of this green wizard idea you are promoting is that the university of green wizardhood is right around us in native habitats and is totally independent of the consumerism and independent of the state of our economy etc.

So on your way to that used bookstore to buy that ecology book make a diversion into the woods!

tristan said...

Mass resources, woot!

I swear JMG that sometimes your comment section is as valuable as your blog.


John Michael Greer said...

Bill, I've seen no end of this sort of thing -- the $800,000 suburban home with state of the art PV panels on the roof, ground source heat pump doing the heating and cooling, his and hers hybrid cars in the spacious two-car garage, high-tech low-wattage lighting system, solar heated swimming pool, etc., etc. This is a fashion statement, not a solution.

Jeffrey, I think you'll be pleased with the study program ahead. The mind, the senses, and the hands all have to be engaged for meaningful learning to take place. The used book store is simply the first stop on a very long journey.

Tristan, just wait 'till the forum and resource exchange gets up and running!

Tatanka Suta said...

While reading these comments, ordering books, downloading material and preparing to print, I am listening to NPRs Science Friday's discussion of synthetic biology.

Humanity's Y in the road.

Is it too late?

Don Plummer said...

You got yourself a real scythe? Where did you purchase it? I went looking for one last week, and the only thing I could find was a cheap, hand-held weed cutter. I bought it because I needed something, but I'd rather have purchased a real scythe.

John, this is more fun than a treasure hunt! (Come to think of it, it is a treasure hunt!) Of course, any excuse to walk into a used bookstore is good enough for me. (You know that saying attributed to Erasmus? "When I get a little money I buy books. If any is left, I buy food and clothes." That's me.)

A visit to one of the best used bookstores in Columbus (not the one I visited last week) came up with three books on solar power:

Daniels, George. Solar Homes and Sun Heating. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

Keyes, John. Harnessing the Sun to Heat Your House. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Morgan & Morgan, 1974.

Reif: Daniel K. Solar Retrofit: Adding Solar to Your Home: How to Build Four Solar Heating Systems. Andover, MA: Brick House Publishing, 1981.

(The last one tells how to build an attached solar greenhouse.)

Also a book on building underground houses:
Campbell, Stu. . Charlotte, VT: Garden Way Publishing, 1980.

I also picked up what appears to be an unread copy of Sharon Astyk's Depletion and Abundance. All this for about $32.

Not bad, eh?

Got another store to visit tomorrow. I've never had luck finding much of interest at this one, but someday my luck will break. Maybe now's the time.

john said...

I came across this article today on a how to build a $4 human-powered washing machine. Thought the article might be good to add to an acolyte wizard's grimoire.

SeaMari said...

Have you given any thought to how you might continue your work should the internet go down sooner rather than later?

There's a fellow in my area who's been homesteading with his family for over 20 years. He teaches courses on his land on many aspects of living close to nature. One of his accomplishments has been the preservation of apple varieties unique to this area of west-central New York. He sells over 100 varieties of apple and other fruit tree scion wood via an old-fashioned mailing list. People who learn about his work, and are interested, send him a stamped, self-addressed envelope, and then he sends them his latest newsletter, course offerings, etc.

Would you consider something similar - collecting SASE from your readers so we can stay in contact should the net go dark?

Jim Brewster said...

Great post as usual! I've downloaded the materials. I need to find a copy of Odum's book since our library system doesn't seem to carry it. I majored in biology/ecology, but that was in the 80's and a more holistic perspective wouldn't hurt!

Here's a shameless plug for my own blog, which implores everyone to check out this one. I'd appreciate any comments/discussion. It's pretty quiet over here!


timewalker said...

I have downloaded the pdf. I'll just make an initial disclaimer that I'm not a building expert, but a few things struck me about this. My first thought was that American houses are very different from here in the UK, where timber-built homes are almost unheard-of. Nearly everything is brick, concrete or stone, and cavity-wall insulation and double-glazing have already been heavily promoted for the past three decades. The problems we have a a bit different - for example how to insulate cavity-less older cottages and Victorian terraces.

I thought maybe going to the second-hand bookshop to find 70s books aimed at a British audience, and realised that even 70s Britain was a very different place. The houses built since then present very different challenges. They are nearly all without chimneys, having been designed for gas central heating (how to fit a woodburner in one of these?), are small with no storage space, if they have gardens then they're often small and have no top-soil (only a couple of inches of turf overlaying several feet of building rubble), very often house-proud owners and lazy gardeners have covered them with decking, paving, concrete or gravel, and turning all this into a productive garden is a bit of a challenge.

I think my point is that some of the techniques that work in one set of circumstances may not be relevant for another, in which case a different set of things need to be learnt. I think green wizards in different parts of the world may have to pick and choose or adjust certain parts of the "curriculum" to suit local conditions.

Also some of the problems are completely new, and solutions will have to be devised from scratch. There will probably be a lot of "muddling through", I suppose just what the original pioneers had to do in the 70s.

MaineCelt said...

@Don Plummer-- we acquired our scythe (custom-sized, no less!) from an outfit in Perry, Maine called, (go figure), "Scythe Supply." (Try this address: They make European-style scythes, which I find far more wieldy than the big curved snath of most American designs. There's a range of blades to choose from for different types of work and terrain, whetstones and peening kits, and a range of instructional materials. If you can ever make it to Maine's Common Ground Fair in late September, you can even take advantage of their free scythe repairs and demonstrations throughout the three-day event!

Edde said...

Greetings John Michael,

Good resources, thanks.

A couple of resources for composting toilets and creating humanure: Goodbye to the Flush Toilet edited by Carol Stoner, Rodale Press, 1977, provides an overview, though somewhat dated product info. More technical but with plans: Rural Wastewater Disposal Alternatives, Final Report - Phase 1, Office of Appropriate Technology, State of California Office of Planning & Research, 1977

Interested in human powered transpo? Try (International Human Powered Vehicle Assoc) for technical stuff or get copies of VeloVision magazine (also a web version) for a current view of bicycles in all their wonderful glory.

Your PDF is similar to a training course I took to become an energy auditor here in Florida, at least the first sections. Stuff on passive solar and such came via Rodale's New Shelter Magazine, etc. Technical materials available at the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) a great resource which also rates solar pv panels and water heaters.

We have a ground-loop installation guy here at the Co-op so many local systems are recycled or rebuilt units from "updated" or foreclosed systems with a much more accessible and affordable ground loop installation process. If you do life cycle costing of ground loop systems vs air to air systems, the ground loops save a ton of $$ over air-to-air.

In our little house with electric bills hovering around $30-50 & no AC, no solar or ground loop AC of any kind is cost effective. However, we're looking at solar water heat, both as theater and for space heating (built the shack w/radiant tubes in the floor)...

Best regards,

pasttense said...

Here are some Do It Yourself Solar Heating Projects including a ground source heat pump (although the OP hasn't yet completed the project):

PS. How do you do a clickable URL here?

Bill Pulliam said...

Don -- yup a real austrian style scythe with curved hickory snath. I got the shorter, wider brush blade rather than the longer, thinner grass blade; in the long run I can already tell I will want both. I got it from the Marugg Company in Tennessee (they have a web site for online orders and including instructional videos). You can get a basic starter kit (blade, snath, whetstone) for around $130 including shipping. Considering that a good gasoline-powered walk-behind mower will set you back around $400 or more, that price seems like a bargain to me. They make them all by hand. There are only two or three companies I know of in the U.S. who still make and sell new scythes. There are also really good videos on YouTube posted by user Scythesman8, some include slo-mo and on-screen text pointing out key points of technique.

Ruben said...


Here is a comment I posted on The Automatic Earth after html linking conversations....

Following yesterday's 'How to Make an HTML Link' mini-tutorial, I have a special item for the HTML-challenged like myself --the bookmarklet.

If you care, read about the bookmarklet here.
Bookmarklet - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

But basically, a bookmarklet is just a handy little program. I put them in my bookmark bar, which on Safari and Firefox and Chrome, is right under the address of the website you are looking at. You can just drag the bookmarklets into the bookmark bar and click away--just that easy. The bookmarklet I use everyday is to email the webpage I am reading to my friends. I click the bookmarklet, it opens up my mail program, pastes the web URL into the message and puts the title of the webpage into the subject line. I type my friend's name and press send.

So anyhow, if you want to paste an HTML URL into your comments so people can click on it, here is a bookmarklet that writes the HTML for you.
Scroll about halfway down the page and drag the Link To This Page bookmarklet to your bookmark bar. In Safari, this will not automatically copy to my clipboard, so I must copy it.

Then, if other readers are NOT using this handy tool (what an outrage) here is a bookmarklet to make all URLs into links.
25 essential browsing bookmarklets from
Again, about halfway down, drag the Linkify to your bookmark bar.

And finally, the email bookmarklet, to better inundate your friends with JMG.
Absolutely Fabulous Browser Bookmarklet Things • Perishable Press
About a third of the way down, Email URL Bookmarklet Thing, drag, drop and enjoy.

Lance Michael Foster said...

If you read the posts with the element "naked hippies," you will see they are already being a somewhat fanciful, mythological creature. A demihuman that is naked, close to the earth, etc.

I can imagine in some future age after the Great Darkness, there will be a remembered nature spirit called the Neykiddhipee, a genius loci of mysterious lore, odd dances, a lack of clothing (or odd motley rags), and an affinity for mushrooms and hemp.

Is this how the Tuatha De Danann, Formorians, and Fir Bolg got their start?

ezab said...

The book JMG recommends, Basic Ecology by Ralph and Mildred Buchsbaum, is available from Amazon only at sky-high prices, and is currently available from ABEbooks at reasonable prices.

Penumbra said...

Found a glorious old chest that I am going to use to keep the gaianomicon materials in. Provides a single coherent location for diverse hard to bundle materials. Also provides easy portability in case of fire or other calamity

FernWise said...

So, since Thursday I've visited two used bookstores plus Goodwill. Nothing here - all the appropriate tech books get gobbled up practically the moment they come in, say the store owners. I'll have to get them at garage sales. Which is fine by me, the same places are likely to have non-electric tools.

Of course, it's not like I could enter bookstores and not buy ANYTHING. Two of Shakespeare's plays, one book on preserving food (which I guess does count), one Kabala book, and Square Foot Gardening.

Don Plummer said...

Thank you Bill and Celt from Maine for your scythe information. I'll look into them both.

Bill, we bought some cast iron cookware from a company in Tennessee. I can't remember their name, but it's great stuff.

Pasttense: to make a clickable link, type this formula: text you want to make clickable. Where I typed URL, you paste the full Web address of the page you want to link to.

A few more book finds:
Making Do: Basic Things for Simple Living, by Arthur M. Hill. San Francisco Book Co., 1972. The title reminds me of Warren Johnson's Muddling Toward Frugality. This one seems to fit right into the quest we're on. It has lots of home and garden projects for making useful devices like a wheelbarrow or a homemade band saw, all cheaply.

Two books by Gene Logsdon, both published by Rodale Press: Successful Berry Growing, 1974, and The Gardener's Guide to Better Soil, 1975.

Lance Michael Foster said...

Just got back from the library where I checked out the DVD video course from "The Great Courses"- "Earth at the Crossroads: Understanding the Ecology of a Changing Planet"

1. An Ecological Diagnosis of the Living Earth
2. Humanity and the Tragedy of the Commons
3. Ecology—Natural History to Holistic Science
4. Ecology as a System—Presses and Pulses
5. Climate and Habitat—Twin Ecological Crises
6. Human Society as Ecological Driver
7. Movement of Energy through Living Systems
8. Humans as Energy Consumers
9. Nutrient Cycling in Ecosystems
10. The Challenges of Waste and Disposal
11. The Water Cycle and Climate
12. Human Water Use and Climate Change
13. Rain and Heat—Forces That Shape Climate
14. The Ecology of Global Climate Change
15. How Living Organisms Acquire Food
16. The Ecological Consequences of Agriculture
17. Food, Energy Flows, Biomagnification
18. The Human Ecology of Biomagnification
19. The Ecological Community as a Living Mosaic
20. Wildlife Adaptation to Human Landscapes
21. Biodiversity, Disturbance, Invasive Species
22. Biodiversity Decline and Restoration Ecology
23. Microevolution and Biological Variation
24. Human Impacts on Ecological Space and Time
25. Population Growth and Its Natural Limits
26. The Human Shift to an Urban Lifestyle
27. The Ecology of Dispersal and Migration
28. Human Impacts on Animal Migration
29. Ecology and Economy of Sex and Reproduction
30. Cities and the Human Demographic Transition
31. Coevolution among Species
32. The Coevolution of Human Diseases
33. Strategies for Reversing Ecosystem Decline
34. Designing Spaces for Wildlife
35. Toward Sustainable Urban Ecosystems
36. Recovering Ecosystems—Hope for the Future

There are also many other courses, some of which your local library may hold.

Another great online resource for those who have a fast connection is Annenberg's free video courses at
Many of these are designed for learning how to teach these subjects. Besides serving as paralibrarians, we may also serve as parateachers in the future.

In an ecosystem context, check out:
The Habitable Planet: Learn about Earth's natural systems and environmental science with this course for high school teachers and college level instruction. It is by the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in association with the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

John Michael Greer said...

Tatanka, I don't think so. My guess is that the current hoopla over synthetic biology is right up there with the assurances by fusion power researchers that fusion power is just about ready to be deployed, or those from computer scientists that they'll be able to create computers that think any day now, really, etc., etc. Technology's reach tolerably often exceeds its grasp these days.

Don, yep, it's a treasure hunt. One of those books in particular -- Reif's book on solar retrofits -- is worth its weight in paid heating bills, if it's the one I recall (I don't have a copy, more's the pity -- thinking back to a library copy).

SeaMari, yes. To begin with, all this material will be turned into a book and published, so a few thousand copies should be in circulation within a few years, and by that time there will also be a bunch of green wizards running around who can take apprentices of their own. There will also be other arrangements I plan on making as the shape of the internet's decline becomes clearer. If anything happens suddenly -- for example, an unexpected war with China involving cyberattacks that flatten the internet -- I'd like to ask everyone to drop a letter to the Cultural Conservers Foundation at PO Box 914, Cumberland MD 21501 and I'll make arrangements for a monthly print newsletter to go out with this stuff in it.

Timewalker, that's true enough. There was a large and active appropriate tech scene in Britain in the 70s as well, and if you look around you should be able to find books and other information on how to retrofit British houses for energy efficiency -- if you find anything that's not under copyright, scan it and send me a copy, and I can make it available to European readers generally (and those in the older parts of the US, where frame houses aren't as universal as they are in Seattle).

Edde, yes, this stuff is pretty much standard -- which is part of the reason I've tried to get it into circulation!

Lance, that seems quite likely!

Fern, Square Foot Gardening counts! That's going to be one of the books I recommend for people who haven't gardened before and want to make a start.

Lance (again), good. The course you've outlined is a good deal more anthropocentric than what I had in mind. Still, do they have anything on ecology qua ecology, focusing primarily on nonhuman natural systems? That might be useful for those who learn well from videos.

Lance Michael Foster said...

I just watched the introduction to the series "Earth at the Crossroads" and better understand their approach now, and I think I can address the concern of anthropocentrism. The teacher is a noted urban ecologist, thus he is used to dealing with people as integral to ecology, as well as encountering political/ideological objections to ecology (anti-climate change rants for example). So the course is designed with the idea that at least some viewers may be anti-ecology skeptics.

1. The course is based on the assumption of human self-interest. That many people proceed not from altruism but from self-interest, namely "What's in it for me?" Self-interest is, after all, common to all organisms who seek to maximize nutrients, sexual reproduction, etc. Instead of preaching, the approach of this course is engaging students through self-interest (ahh, is this not also a product of our times?) Odum's work is central to this course.

2. With that human self-interest in mind, the lectures are arranged in a series of pairs, with the first part on the nonhuman ecology and the second part of each pair on the human effects on the nonhuman ecology. One could watch those parts out of order. So if one is uninterested in the human effects, certainly one could just watch the nonhuman parts.

Re-arranged, the lectures (each 30-minutes long) would then be:

7. Movement of Energy through Living Systems
9. Nutrient Cycling in Ecosystems
11. The Water Cycle and Climate
13. Rain and Heat—Forces That Shape Climate
15. How Living Organisms Acquire Food
17. Food, Energy Flows, Biomagnification
19. The Ecological Community as a Living Mosaic
21. Biodiversity, Disturbance, Invasive Species
23. Microevolution and Biological Variation
25. Population Growth and Its Natural Limits
27. The Ecology of Dispersal and Migration
29. Ecology and Economy of Sex and Reproduction
31. Coevolution among Species

For those interested in implications for human communities, they could watch-

1. An Ecological Diagnosis of the Living Earth
2. Humanity and the Tragedy of the Commons
3. Ecology—Natural History to Holistic Science
4. Ecology as a System—Presses and Pulses
5. Climate and Habitat—Twin Ecological Crises
6. Human Society as Ecological Driver
8. Humans as Energy Consumers
10. The Challenges of Waste and Disposal
12. Human Water Use and Climate Change
14. The Ecology of Global Climate Change
16. The Ecological Consequences of Agriculture
18. The Human Ecology of Biomagnification
20. Wildlife Adaptation to Human Landscapes
22. Biodiversity Decline and Restoration Ecology
24. Human Impacts on Ecological Space and Time
26. The Human Shift to an Urban Lifestyle
28. Human Impacts on Animal Migration
30. Cities and the Human Demographic Transition
32. The Coevolution of Human Diseases
33. Strategies for Reversing Ecosystem Decline
34. Designing Spaces for Wildlife
35. Toward Sustainable Urban Ecosystems
36. Recovering Ecosystems—Hope for the Future

Cathy McGuire said...

All the comments have been great! Lots of good leads and things to ponder... I found an article about eating local in Portland OR, specifically about people who get too snotty about it! I love the quote "Being elitist about it is kind of counterproductive,” said Erik Gage, 21, the band’s lead singer, who noted that he loves living in Portland. “You can argue about it, but I think one of the most important things about localism is getting along with the locals.”

@Bill There didn't seem to be any good reason why a DIY household who has experience with HVAC and a friend with a backhoe would not be able to put this together him/her sel.. A physicist friend of mine put his own in; he loves tinkering and managed to get a really good system together. So it is doable!

Just a thought: I think "wizard" is appropriate, because part of the learning is to figure out how the general system works in your particular instance -- there are no absolutes, so a Green Wizard will be a problem solver as well as a fount of knowledge.

Cathy McGuire said...

PS - I checked the garage sales and didn't find any books, but I got a manual apple corer, looks new, for $3! Yes!

Steven said...


Your musings on magic are influencing me greatly. I recently created a conjuration chamber, a space to meditate, to practice tai chi, and to develop a wizardry of my own.

It's not green wizardry, but it is magic nonetheless, and it is inspired by the idea of Gaia, and the idea of the noosphere.

If this sparks your curiosity, I would love to share more with you.


Bealers said...

Mr Greer et al,

Another resource worth looking at:

"Appropedia is the site for collaborative solutions in sustainability, poverty reduction and international development through the use of sound principles and appropriate technology and the sharing of wisdom and project information. It is a wiki, a type of website which allows anyone to add, remove, or edit content"

Don Plummer said...

My attempt to demonstrate how to make a hyperlink failed because it turned into a hyperlink! I'll try again. To make a clickable hyperlink, type this formula.

First, type "".

Then type the text that you want to make clickable.

Immediately after that text, close the tag by typing "

That should work.

Zach said...

Ecology texts ordered from the library -- after I see them, I'll have to decide which to search out for the personal paper library. This will make a textbook-heavy summer for me, as I'm already committed to teaching economics for high school this fall (something new to me). Expect Schumacher and the primary/secondary/tertiary economies to make a guest appearance... :)

I've previously rescued a 1954 edition of Feeds and Feeding from our local recycle center -- I knew about this one from an offhand reference in a Wendell Berry essay. Have yet to make use of it, but it's on the shelf... I'll have to see if there's more to salvage this week.

Onward to the practical! I'm already trying the trellis and cold frame designs from Eliot Coleman (Four Season Harvest) this year -- so far I'm happy with them.

<a href=">Zach</a>

Ponter said...

This is getting to be VERY interesting, indeed. Do we really have to wait months for all the ensuing installments? Damn!

I'm getting a little on in years to become a master craftsman, in the sense that sebzefrog means. Too late for that. I spent my "salad years" toiling in education, then later in the nonprofit vineyards, working on environmental issues, housing the homeless, and a few others. Seems like those of us working for social change have utterly failed. Wish I knew then what I know now, but that seems to be the way.

I wonder what the median age of Archdruid Report readers is. All those under 30 please raise your hands! This is my greatest concern. When I go to meetings in my area that relate to the kinds of concerns raised in this column, it's mostly graybeards. Young people seem to have been so totally seduced by the dark side (not to mention so abysmally dumbed-down) that it's tough to find any that really understand what's going on, let alone want to participate in the transition. That's too bad. In spite of the direness of today's world, I envy anyone young enough to actually devote a whole life to becoming a Green Wizard. Can't hurt to join in the fun while I still can, though.

I do have in my library such classics as The Integral Urban House, the Permaculture Handbook (Mollison), plus other books by David Holmgren, lots of Schumacher, Illich (HIGHLY recommended), books on alternative building, organic gardening, etc., and tons of natural history. My wife and I have long had organic gardens, but I wouldn't say that we are masters of anything in particular. Actually, she's a Master Gardener, but is too humble to claim any great expertise. We're just a couple of village elders, stumbling along as best we can. And having a good time, by the way. Without a little joy, our efforts will be worthless.

Susan said...

I've got a book I found at a Goodwill book sale a few years back called Essentials of Weaving by a woman who used to be an instructor of weaving at Berea College in Kentucky. It has a good section at the front of the book on setting up a loom. I can't find a copyright renewal for it (last copyright date was 1940), so it looks to be in the public domain now. I'll try to scan it and make it available soon.

I checked one used bookstore yesterday with no results, but did find the Reif Solar Retrofit book through Abebooks. That's another resource for those who don't have good used bookstores nearby.

daharja said...

Preserving (in acid-free print as well as electronic on my laptop) at your request here in Dunedin, New Zealand - and reading and enjoying!

I've also added a link to the page from my own blog, to get the word around.

Other commenters have mentioned Bill Mollison's Permaculture books as being worthy of preservation. I'd like to support that - his work is excellent, and well worth purchasing and reading.

BattyHugh said...

Hooray! - I've been rabbitting on about the need for 're-discovering' our past technologies for yonks - without much appreciable uptake. Lovelock is right - when he suggested that we should print all the relevant material that has ended up in the very insecure digital storage vaults throughout the world (the originals in many case have been destroyed - think of libraries digitizing their holdings and then trashing the originals...)

Comments on printing - ensure that the ink is carbon based - lots of printer inks are still dye based - check by running water over a freshly printed page -

Comments on book binding - do-it-yourself "perfect binding" is easy - I rescue falling apart books all the time - I use PVA wood glue and linen to recreate the binding - you will need to make a simple book binder's clamp to compress the pages along the spine - I use G clamps, a piece of wood and the table top - works fine. Important that you really rub the wet glue into the book spine with your finger - forcing it into the fibres - then lay a glued piece of cloth (old sheet) over that - rub it into close contact - and let the whole thing dry - cut the cloth to size - and glue it to the covers, and glue a piece of acid free paper over that - not rocket science - just examine some other books - and you'll get the general idea. This works just as well for sewn bindings (because usually the sewing is unravelling) - you may have to fix the pages with a needle and thread where they have fallen apart.

Here in the very wet tropics - books fall apart with terrifying frequency - and I'm always having to fix them..


TG said...

(1) Bless you for providing the Master Conserver files. They're now on my desktop, and I look forward to exploring them.

(2) The nice lady at the local used bookstore helped me find one from 1977 about canning and food preservation. I'm not sure it fully qualifies as "naked hippie stuff," since it was published by the government. It's nonetheless a wonderful compilation of educational writings by various Extension specialists. I like the schematic of the solar dehydrator. The article on "The Resurgence of Community Canneries" is intriguing. And there's a bunch of information that will be of great practical use to my husband and me, now that we're in our third year of gardening.

(3) I've ordered an older edition of Odum's Fundamentals of Ecology from Powell's.

--Tracy Glomski

John Michael Greer said...

Lance, thank you. That's helpful.

Cathy, bingo. Problem solving is the wizard's basic job. Got a dragon infesting your ancestral mountain, Saxon hordes invading your island, plans for a Death Star you need to get to the Rebel Alliance? You've got a problem; you need a wizard. These days, we've got problems on the same scale, so we need wizards.

Ponter, I do have to write them all, you know!

Susan, the CCF would love to get a scanned copy of that book and make it available through our website. Once you scan it, if you're willing, please email a PDF to me at culturalconservers (at) verizon (dot) net. Many thanks!

Hugh, thanks for the information. If you could write up the instructions in as much detail as though you were walking a smart ten-year-old through the process and forward them to me at the address I just gave to Susan, we'd like to post them -- with credit to you! -- as a resource for one of the CCF projects.

Tracy, if it has instructions for a solar dehydrator, I'd be willing to bet hundreds of naked hippies had copies, so it counts. Is the book copyrighted? Not all government publications are.

AgedSpirit said...

@Susan............about your comment about looms: I spent 2 months this last winter in southern Mexico in a village of weavers. Out of some 7,500 people in this village about 5,000 made their living directly from their looms. While nearly every household had books of images by Picasso or Escher there were no books on how to build a loom. It seems that the loom there is as integral as a snails shell is to the snail. Interestingly enough, each loom could be disassembled with the removal of a few key wooden dowels. Thus looms of different sizes could be brought into production depending on the current demands of the market.
What I found most fascinating about these people is that they survived the double whammy of Monteczuma and shortly thereafter the ravages of Cortez. It seems that the ability to produce cloth is so essential that even would be rapers and pillagers will step back a bit that they may have something to cover their loins.
A step further along takes one into looking at how the wool of sheep is turned into yarn. It seems like the more basic the article being produced the more deep and profound the lore that surrounds it.
As an aside to this I came back with my bags filled with various 'naturales', which are wools of color that come directly from sheep of color. I'm currently involved in an exchange with a skilled knitter who is creating a fine sweater that I can wear in the cold and damp winters (which is when I'm often found along the banks of our local river chasing the elusive Chinook Salmon.
Happy weaving.

tom rainboro said...

I appreciate that knowledge may be at the core of progress but some people learn best by looking at physical artefacts. I'd like to support some previous post that suggested looking out for human powered sewing machines. There is one in this (U.K.) household and they are still around in secondhand stores here. There is also a push lawnmower, a Rayburn solld fuel stove, plenty of old enamelware, and so on. This stuff
is fast disappearing. Personally I'd really like to find a hand or belt powered agricultural bean and grain mill. I think much less of this is available than in the 70's. (When exactly was the peak year of western engineering? - the Rayburn is 1950's). Is any of this stuff still made in the States? Maybe India is the place to look. Anyone got any online references to catalogues or stores? There seems to be very little useful U.K. manufacturing anymore. Our local 'agricultural engineer' is a great resource. He's the guy who patches up the farmer's plough when he drags it out of the shed the very day that he needs it.

sofistek said...

I'm printing the book as I write, though I'm printing it 4-up to conserve ink and paper. It's a bit small but readable. Manual two sided printing, cuts the sheets down to less than 25.

The notes appear to frequently refer to buying stuff (e.g. a steel brush for chimney cleaning) or hiring people, which doesn't sit well with me.

As for sending it to someone else; it would have to be someone who might actually think it's worth preserving and I can't think of anyone like that, at the moment.

I intend to visit a used book store, though there is only one I know of in our locality. The library and charity shop are also possibilities.

However, I already have a number of books that might fit into the category somewhat: John Seymour's The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It (if has another title, depending on country), Carla Emery's The Encyclopedia of Country Living, Thomas J Elpel's Primitive Living, Self-Sufficiency, and Survival Skills, plus a few others, including the more recent When Technology Fails by Matthew Stein. Do you think these are a good start?


Johan said...


On "synthetic biology" and genetics in general I can recommend The Nature Institute's ongoing work "On making the genome whole":

These articles do take some effort to read, as they heavily reference scientific journals, but are worth the while if you want to understand just how much the popular image of genetics is shaped by myth.

The Nature Institute has plenty of other things of interest too, on "qualitative science" and the role of technology (see the back issues of the Netfuture newsletter).

Don Plummer said...

I give up trying to display the tags for creating a hyperlink!

Pattense, you can learn how to do it from any online HTML tutorial. Just Google "HTML tutorial."


RPC said...

Two quick notes:
1) Zach inadvertently showed how to make a hyperlink by leaving the second quote off his href (right after the ".com").
2) The outfit in Tennesse (there's that state again!) that makes cast iron cookware is Lodge Manufacturing. Their stuff is a bit rough by 1920s standards, but a year of use with a metal spatula leaves it nice and smooth and seasoned.

Odin's Raven said...

Some might like this community,

Cathy McGuire said...

Don -
Here is an explanation of how to do a hyperlink, via Zach's "almost version:

<a href=">Zach</a>

Notice that Zach uses the a bracket function... the reason this didn't turn into a hyperlink is that he left off the end bracket from the first "a" (Zach, I'm not criticizing... I just saw it as a perfect way to explain what Don was trying to do). Hope that is more clear!

Steve said...


I'll raise my hand as a 29-year-old. I have several friends locally who are tuned in quite well to this theme, most of whom are under 35. We also have the symptom of local "collapse" meeting interest running highest among the graying elders.

My impression is that many of the younger generation know something of what's in store but are responding without going to many meetings. Most of us are trying to avoid becoming a part of the growing underclass while setting sights on more immediately practical aspects of preparation. This means working full time plus choosing our own urban homesteading adventure, leaving not a whole lot of time for meetings.

I know a handful of high schoolers and college students who are somewhat tuned in, but they're still in the midst of the "bright future" indoctrination. I have faith in the ones I've met, mostly because 10 years ago I was a typical "invincible" teenager. If I turned up on this blog a couple years ago, the path can't be that hard to find.

TG said...

John Michael, I'm not sure how to determine if the book is copyright protected. There's no © symbol anywhere that I can find. The inside cover says: "This is a reprint of Part 4 from the 1977 Yearbook of Agriculture, Gardening for Food and Fun. The Yearbook may be purchased at government bookstores or ordered from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402." The contents of the book were originally in a section titled "Home Food Preservation." The reprint that I purchased has been retitled Canning, Freezing, Storing Garden Produce and is numbered "Agriculture Information Bulletin 410."

I don't have a scanner, but if you'd like a copy, I'll try to find one that I can use. If all else fails, I could perhaps photocopy it and send it by snail mail. There are 86 pages altogether. The dehydrator article doesn't include detailed instructions (the authors provided an address where those could once be obtained for 25¢), but the diagram has given me a clearer idea of what's required. Whenever it's sunny again and I have a couple of free hours, I plan to experiment with my solar oven. I want to see if I can get adequate airflow and a temp hovering around 140°F if I slightly prop the glass panel. If not, I might enjoy building a real dehydrator. Our raspberry bushes are prolific, and it'd be good to have an alternate storage method to freezing.

Tom Rainboro, for American-made products, the directory at is the place I usually check first. I'm lusting after a CookTek induction burner but will have to save up a lot of pennies for that. Our solar oven is an Indian-made Tulsi Hybrid model: it plugs in and functions as a slow cooker when the sky is cloudy. We also use a German-made Brill reel mower for what little lawn we have left.

Incidentally, while I was shopping for books, I also ordered The Complete Guide to Treadle Sewing Machines, which was the only repair book I could find. I hope it's as good as it looks. My machine has never required any maintenance beyond basic cleaning and oiling. But if something else is ever needed, I want to be able to do that myself.


Anne said...

Done an internet trawl for the listed books, results as follows:

The Integral Urban House
2008 edition Amazon UK new £19.89
1980 edition Amazon UK used £13.92

More other homes & garbage: designs for self-sufficient living
downloadable from e-commons

Amazon UK used £54.10

The book of the New Alchemists
Amazon UK used £47.95

The Food & Heat Producing Solar Greenhouse
Free E-book

Basic Ecology Amazon UK used £13.59

Fundamentals of Ecology
2004 Amazon UK used £34.57
1971 Amazon UK used £5

And a couple to add to the list:

The Concise Guide to Self-Sufficiency John Seymour & Will Sutherland 2007 - updated version of the classic book, aimed at people in urban situations rather than small-holders which the original book was aimed at
Amazon UK used £6.54

Eco-renovation: The ecological home improvement guide Edward Harland 2002 UK focused guide
Amazon UK used £0.97

Thought this was worth passing on. Will be hitting the used bookshops in Hay-on-Wye the weekend after next, if anyone has any tips for the best ones for this sort of book please pass them on as there are a lot of bookshops in Hay-on-Wye!

TG said...

I should've done more research before responding. After a bit of Googling, I see that many of the Agriculture Information Bulletins, including the one I bought, can be found online at the National Agricultural Library Digital Repository. So apparently, yes, anyone can access any of those archived topics of interest and save copies. Excellent! I had no idea that resource existed.


Jeremy said...

@Ponter - im 23 and have been collecting learning and practicing this kind of thing between a psych and a teaching degree for about the last 6 years.

Personal library of 1000 odd title, of which a larger percentage are on skills trades and abilities fundamental (in my estimation) to a sustainable civilization.

Have just downloaded the conserver PDF gone and hunted the ecology book and am about to hit up our local hospice shop in search of more books.

JMG - when ready can i suggest you do a post requesting pdf's/file/articles relevant - I have over 2 Gig saved and semi-archived into logical order that may help some of the Green Wizard Brethren ;-)

Cathy McGuire said...

My used bookstore trawl today was fun but a bit spendy (considering I have no budget for books)-- I didn't find any old titles in the ecology sections, but got 3 Wendell Berry essay books 'cause I couldn't resist, and I found "Plain and Happy Living: Amish recipes and remedies" (goosefoot acres press, 1991), and there were lots to choose from in the carpentry section! I got "Basic Construction Techniques for Houses and Small Buildings" Prepared by the US Navy, 1970 (Dover Editions) and "Audels Carpenters and Builders Guide" 1923 (reprinted 1945, but still an old book!)... I'm guess all this chicken coop building influenced my decision somewhat! ;-D

I was sad to have to leave another old (1920's) carpentry guide, but it was all math - ie: it showed the geometry and other math need to calculate arches and other building features -- I know I would never,ever use it... but perhaps some Eugene OR Green Wizard will check out Smith's downtown and rescue that one?

menecraj said...

LewisLucanBooks wrote:
"Not exactly Hay on Wye, but we're getting there. I think there is another book dealer here. I hope they chime in."

Okay, another bookseller here -- well, carpenter-turned-bookseller. I've been following the Archdruid Report for a few years now, and find the blog very informative. It's about time someone highlights the importance of the intermediate technology movement! Just entering my 50s, but 20+ years ago I was handcrafting log homes in the BC interior after a course with the log-building guru B. Allan Mackie. I have a lot of old friends on the shelves around me, and they include hundreds and hundreds of books on what one could call appropriate technology: Bailey's "The Nursery Manual"; Gibbons' Stalking Library; far too many books on alternative construction including rammed earth and earth-sheltered, straw-bale, another one on reclaiming old buildings (mostly log), and of course Mackie's superb works, including "Notches of All Kinds" and "Building with Logs". Hundreds of gardening books, including rainwater harvesting for drylands, creating an oasis with greywater, etc. Everything from bicycle repair to building a hand-forge to metal casting and the small foundry.

Oh - here's a pic of a solar oven I've been using for several years: (the site has been pretty much dead but that link should still work).

The Cultural Conservers Foundation is also a great idea, and I'd certainly be pleased to offer Mr. Greer some assitance with that.

menecraj said...

On searching for used books online

Many have commented about sites they find useful in terms of purchasing books online (Abebooks -recently purchased by Amazon, etc.), but there are there are better alternatives, one of which is an online book co-op of about 140 stores, which has a great cataloguing system. That's over at TomFolio, where you'll find their superb category system, with major ones like Building and Construction, Crafts and Skills, Garden and Horticulture, etc.

If you can't locate what you want over at, there are three meta sites on the internet:
1) ViaLibri
2) AddAll (be sure to click the out-of-print books link)
3) Bookfinder

Happy searching!

Merle Langlois said...

First time commenter. I have to say thank you to JMG for the hard work you do and for the lifestyle that you live.

I'm under 30 (23) and scared as hell about the changes coming our way. A part of me wants to just say screw the Long Descent and try and live the fabled late 20th century life. But a greater, more wise part of me knows that would be less than fruitful in the end and that the sooner I start preparing myself and my environment, the happier I'll be when I die.

I look forward to the coming lessons with great anticipation although the only plant I've managed to successfully grow this year is a tomato plant, and I need a stick to prop it up with. I worry that it might be too late in the season for a lot of good gardening info, but I still want it nonetheless.

I own The Druid Magic Handbook, The Druidry Handbook, The Long Descent, and the Ecotechnic Future and greatly look forward to The Wealth of Nature.

It seems the main thing I have to focus on now is magic to increase my self discipline, as the will is there, but I spend most of my time working or wasting away on the internet.

Zach said...

And here I thought Blogger had munged my comment... oops! I'm glad my typo was so informative.

For those who aspire to HTML wizardry, web browsers have a feature which will show you the underlying code (or grammar) of the page. In Firefox, use "View -> Page Source". That, plus a basic HTML dictionary, will get you a long ways. Complex formatting will still be arcane and magical, but if you do this with simple pages, you can learn the easy incantations -- which are the only ones allowed in Blogger comments anyway.


Gavin said...

JMG, you seem to have become the Oprah of the peak oil scene. The price of Basic Ecology has shot up all over the internet, and many former stockists are now sold out. [This is not a complaint; it's obviously a success of sorts.] I've got a dogeared copy on its way from the Netherlands. Perhaps not the best copy for posterity, but an affordable one.

pasttense said...

If you are interested in building a food dehydrator simply do a Google search and you will get several specific how-to articles just using the terms:
build food dehydrator

Cathy McGuire said...

Over at Gizmodo, they have a photo of a lawnmower tricycle... they don't think much of it, but I like the idea... some of us have more leg strength than push strength!

Bill Pulliam said...

Gavin -- oh that is hilarious! I'm waiting for "JMG" magazine to hit the shelves at my local Mall*Wart.

Blogspot (= Google) blog traffic is not that easy to track. Sitemeter and other tracking services tend to only catch a fraction of your real traffic -- for instance they miss people who use RSS, which is an increasing and very substantial chunk of the traffic. They also often work via logging requests for an embedded image, which of course won't count anyone who has default image loading turned off. I know on my own Little Red Blog, last year when I was posting the woodpecker sagas and attracting more attention than usual, I only had about 5 people commenting on my postings. Sitemeter showed a few hundred hits on each entry. But the video clips I linked via the posts (not hosted on youtube, so they would not get much random surfing traffic) each got about 500-1000 views in the first couple of days, suggesting my total readership was far greater than indicated by sitemeter. So I'd guess the readership for The Archdruid Report is well up in the thousands, maybe over 10,000.

robertguyton said...

Now you have a New Zealander on board - a seed saving, seedball making, apple-tree grafting, berry propagating, food-forest-dwelling, cycling, garden-magazine-writing, blogging, cider making, vegetable growing southern man, with a family of acolyte 'green wizards' who do all of the things that I don't - build wind turbine blades and seed sowing devices, cook and sew, free-run and sail - you name it.
I am and have been watching your developing programme with great interest and growing my beard in support.
If I may: my blog.

John - the post titled 'Farmageddon' might interest you most.

fleam said...

In my own humble opinion and it's humble indeed, you are on the right track. Time to start preparing for all this "modern" stuff to just plain go away. not with a scream or a rumble, not even a whimper or a whoosh, but with a silence; an absence of what was there before.

In my own observation, the Internet is slowly becoming less useful, there's less free discourse, there's more bandwidth-rationing (I can get 2-3 good page-loads on a site then it goes to glacial speed) and now as I type this, this page is acting VERY funny.

Let's see if I can get this posted.

Hoard books. Get to know your neighbors.

Ugh - censorship and shutdown. This will be my last post. Take care, Druid Dude.

sofistek said...

I went to the only used bookstore for miles, yesterday. I couldn't find anything remotely related to self-sufficiency. I'll have to keep my eyes open for such stores when I venture further afield and try charity shops and libraries.

Mary said...

Couldn't post the other night, so here I am trying again. The Master Conserver program looks like a big help in saving my oil use in my antique farmhouse. Last year I very effectively rolled $12 worth of shop towels and lay them in the windows. Will add other tips as I think of them. As for the old books, no time to visit or money to shop right now...but I didn't have to. I have a slew of older and newer herb and gardening books along with several how to, such as How to Survive in the Woods, Back Yard Composting, Back Yard Sugarin', a coffee table book that opens with instructions on how to can, and more. And so we begin...

Matthew said...

Dear Mr Greer, if your intention with telling people to read ecology books is to illuminate the fatal competition that inevitably accompanies energy limits without reinforcing the myth of intrinsic sustainability (sustainability in nature is achieved through extrinsic limiting factors), I apologise. Having read numerous ecology textbooks however (I am surprised you are so quick to assume I haven't, given that you can't possibly know either way), that all seem to suggest that ecosystem threatening change is something unusual on a planet that has been changing for 4.5 billion years, I am just trying to raise concerns about the pro-stasis (conservation), anti-temporary-breakaway-success bias often contained within. Mature ecosystems are like mature capitalist economies. They are full of hyper-specialised "species" all working in a system with no reserve capacity and they are extremely delicate as a result. Periodic ecosystem collapses (and indeed population collapses) are perfectly natural and I think the full implications of the struggle for life are better served by The Origin of Species. If you don't think people should read The Origin of Species while educating themselves about the reality of life on Earth, fair enough, but I think they should, paying careful attention to the central role of fierce competition between members of the same species. Humans are tribal and though the energy bounty of fossil fuels has recently led some to conclude that we can all live happily ever after, when that energy source starts to decline intraspecies competition will increase. I don't know what this will lead to, but, given the ubiquitous role of interspecies competition in the rest of nature, I think it would be extremely wise to consider future scenarios that involve it.

Kind regards,


Creekholme said...

Hi JMG, I'm Stephen Heyer's partner (and you thought I was just a figment of his imagination, didn't you?).

I studied ecology at Uni as part of my bachelor's degree, Honours and Post Grad Dip in the 90's - is that close enough? Covered lots of ecology (not just ecosystems and communities) inc. energy cascades.

We have already been collecting older books, on alt techs, inc. some from family, though I'm sorry now I didn't keep that one on housing from the States. But not so much use in tropical Aus.

Have yet to d/load the 190 pages but will do so. We have also bought or d/loaded some newer publications inc. from ECHO, so have been adding to the little library and yours will be appreciated.

So far we are still grid-locked but 5km from work on a 3 & 1/2 acre homestead with real potential.

I am looking forward to green wizardry!

Aurora said...

Sorry if this has been posted already

The sum total of Practical Action's (formerly ITDG)knowledge. The internet s'mazing.

Cindy said...

I think that Dorothy Hartley's books fit well into this discussion, even if they are about a time far removed from even the 1970s. My favorite is: Lost Country Life (1979): How English country folk lived, worked, threshed, thatched, rolled fleece, milled corn, brewed mead.

Cindy said...

I recommend the work of AERO
Alternative Energy Resources Organization.
They have been around since the 1970s and have many, many publications. Here is a link to a history of the organization:
I remember well their New Western Energy Show--a troup of actors, singers, musicians, who came to towns all across the Mountain West in the late 1970s to spread the word about the need for solar, wind, etc. Not long ago, someone posted a video of the New Western Energy Show on You Tube. It has since been taken down, due to copyright issues, but when I was able to watch it, I was saddened by the ground that has been lost since then. So, the search for materials created during that time is certainly a valuable endeavor.

The Universe said...

Dear JustJohn...

THANKS for uploading the PDF to an alternate location.

The original link is now broken.

Guillem mateo said...

Can anyone share the "Cultural conservers"PDF, since the original source is down?I'll really apreciate it :)