Summer was a busy time but as the seasons change it’s now time to reflect. One of the most powerful lessons I’ve had over the past months is the true value of failure. Don’t get me wrong, it can be frustrating, especially when something has taken days to do, to have it ruined by weather or some other factor, but so much is learned with each failure. We lost food to mold all summer from the humidity and rain, discovering the drying process really has to wait until fall when the humidity decreases. I lost rawhide and green pottery to rain leaks and humidity. We lost an underground shelter to the spring thaw and wore through moccasins that weren’t made of strong enough leather. We made candles that burned through too quickly and cooking vessels that didn’t last long. My thatched shelter proved powerless against heavy wind to keep cold and rain out.
With each failure though we learned! And we were able to learn from the mistakes of each other. These lessons then translate into many more successes! Each time we are able to make things that work better and last longer; understand what works in this environment or how things are impacted by the seasons. None of this learning is available from a book! None of these failures a waste! Pictured is my shelter which I am modifying for winter to add a debris wall and debris layer on the roof to see how that impacts its ability to keep cold and rain or snow out. It’s an experiment…which so far is proving out well! Failure fuels creativity and problem solving.
We’ve watched repeatedly in the participants who have been in our programs, just how pervasive the desire to get things right the first time is. We’ve watched as people become frustrated by not doing something perfectly the first time they try, or ruin a project because they tried to make it a fast and easy process. Then they had a choice- either quit, which may be the norm of society- or to dig deeper and try again. It was really beautiful to watch those who persevered. The end result was so much more than their “success”. There was a real joy and sense of accomplishment, a connection with the skill, a reverence for the journey.
Society may feel failure is a negative, but we’re learning what a blessing failure can truly be.
Resident Debbie Tremel. Originally published 2015
So we’ve been living up on the hill for about a month now and it’s shifted my relationship with “need”. We are far from living fully primitively yet but that doesn’t prevent “need” from becoming apparent. For example, Indiana has had the rainiest summer and fall on record. With the rich soil and leaf cover the ground and cover stay incredibly wet. When you’re only using fire for cooking, this makes it challenging. Without a shelter, it’s almost impossible to have completely dry wood so keeping a fire hot enough to cook is almost always a challenge. So the question becomes, do I need hot food? Well, when we had volunteers here who worked hard all day and need a hot supper, the answer was definitely “yes”. You have to use your skills to make sure you take care of the community and the need is very real. Other times when I’ve been alone, I can make another choice.
The need to finish a shelter is also very apparent. Not only is there rain, but the nights are getting colder. Yet there is only so much you can complete in a day. As I’ve worked on thatching my shelter I’ve realized how long it will take just to complete this task. Then trying to balance this with the need to deal with the administration of the organization, fundraising and getting essentials such as food and you have to weigh the most urgent needs. We received some fresh vegetables and need to build a root cellar for some, but others such as the summer squash, won’t last even in that. This wonderful food began to rot so the highest need was to figure how to preserve this valuable food that was gifted to us. So I created a drying rack and am experimenting with how well the squash will dry without full sun and in cooler temperatures. Fortunately it seems to be drying okay in the first couple days…and then it rained again this morning, so we’ll see how it’s fairing.
Need has driven what has to made first priority. It’s inspired creativity and experimentation which is one very enjoyable part of this experience. It’s also highlighted where skills need to be improved to make sure we can accomplish what is necessary. Often what we “want” has to be set aside so that we can focus on what we “need”. Trying to plan your day is almost amusing as each day seems to present a new need. Although it can be a challenge, it is also a very positive experience and brings life to a very vibrant place. It takes you to a place of letting go of control and to opening yourself to what is present. It creates an openness as you step into a place of patience and surrender to the moment, just taking care of what is needed.
Resident Debbie Tremel. Originally published 2014