Self-sufficiency in the City

At least once a week, people with trucks or vans drive through the alley looking for  junk, anything to turn into a few dollars. Sometimes these junk collectors go beyond the alley and into yards, actually stealing any item not chained down, such as a 200 lb. antique bathtub waiting to be transformed into a garden pond, or a man’s favorite hammock waiting to hold him and swing him in his few moments of leisure. This is the age of recyclers that harkens back to the Depression and the stories told of collecting rubber bands and paperclips as well as warnings to never ever walk past a penny left on the sidewalk.  In these desperate times, people get creative like the sisters who started their own business ridding people of head lice with alternatives to the toxic soaps.  A window washer working at a neighbor’s house came by bicycle, set up his ladders, and let the bicycle carrier seat advertise, “Window Washer on Wheels” service.

I went to the library the other day, checked out a fantastic bread book.  I simply need butter, flour salt and the human sweat to turn it all into edible bread.  Perhaps the first loaf will be like leather. Give it to the dog, I guess.  The second loaf I could use for toast. The third loaf, I could put over the fire and make a fire roasted pizza.  With the left over tomatoes on the vines, some olive oil and cheese, I could even have a campfire pizza.  I could complete the meal by opening a can of beans with my pocket knife and using the knife to spear the beans.

All of these possibilities take it for granted that I have an income of some sort, though it’s dwindled in power and only covers a portion of the bills.  It’s the kind of income that still allows for some choices, some creature comforts but requires me to put off large expenses such as a new roof on the house, new tires for the car and personal favorites like eating out or getting a professional hair cut.  I know I am fortunate because plenty of people don’t live at this level of choices.  They have lost their homes and their families are living in a shelter or they are on the move from city to city hoping relatives are better off. Perhaps some of them are the ones who regularly make rounds through the alleys to find stuff to recycle or sell.  This is the part that is new in my neighborhood.  What is also relatively new is the amount of robberies that involve break ins, usually when people are not home.  However, in one case, the occupants were awakened from their sleep to intruders, and it resulted in a murder.

I chose to live in the city because I don’t want to be isolated from what is going on .  This also means I am close to the house that got broken into. The assaults occur near my child’s school or actually happened to my child. The natural responses are the desire to move away or the desire to get even.  Street crime has an obvious perpetrator.  More difficult is the decision to stay put in the house I invested in, the neighborhood I feel a part of.  More difficult is the decision to figure out how to work on the big picture, the criminals at the top who have taken their investments out of the neighborhoods when they moved their industries to other countries where labor is cheaper, or the greedy people who make wars to protect their investments in oil and expect taxpayers to pay for it with their money and their lives, and the criminals who take taxpayers’ money from bailouts and give themselves bonuses. These are the true criminals, and they ought to be made accountable for their large-scale destruction and collapse of our society.

The development of this stolen country came on the backs of slaves and immigrants. It’s important to acknowledge history and to look beyond the mainstream sources of societal information.  My grandparents and parents told me to work hard and treat people with respect. They instilled in my family the belief that life gives back to you what you put into it, a reflection of the golden rule and an inherent understanding of the value of respect.  Each day is a gift to live and an opportunity to promote a just human society.  There is no other place to go.  The message is the same. This is the conclusion I come to, and this is why I am still living here.

All posts copyright Trish Stachelski 2011

Upper Mississippi River Mussels

Riding the Amtrak along the Mississippi River is a fantastic way to see the river especially if you are not in a hurry.  Along with the open views of marshes, sky and sloughs, I discovered that the Empire Builder between Minneapolis and La Crosse included an oral description of the area provided by a National Park Service ranger. As we rumbled over the trestles and shorelines, I learned that the town of Pepin made its fortune in buttons by raking the river for mussels.  The mussels’ pearls and gorgeous irridescence was a form of gold for many towns along the river.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, “it was common for people in the 1800’s to collect mussels and look for treasure on the Upper Mississippi River; that treasure was freshwater pearls found in native mussels. Some historians have compared this treasure hunt to the gold rush in California.”  In addition, “Sixty button factories were located on the Mississippi River Valley by 1899–these factories harvested over 21,000 tons of shells.”  The button industry delcined rapidly after 1930 due to overexpoitation.  “In Lake Pepin, the harvest dropped from more than 3,000 tons to just 150 tons between 1914 and 1929 as mussel beds were literally wiped out” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife)  Today “In the Upper Mississippi River system, at least 18 species, half of which are considered endangered, threatened or a species of special concern by at least one of the states bordering the Upper Mississippi River, presently have some commercial concern” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

It’s still possible to find freshwater mussel shells along the beaches, perhaps the discards of a raccoon or heron’s meal. On the shore of the St. Criox River, I discovered a sign that read it is unlawful to take live or empty shells. To me, the mussel symbolizes the purity of the river.  They act as the lungs of the river, sifting and cleaning the water as they pull out the nutrients they feed on.  The study of the mussel and its over harvesting is a reminder of human greed and the delicate balance of life on the river.