I have fond memories of visiting my great-grandparents every summer years ago in rural Missouri.
I was fascinated by what seemed to be a hopelessly old-fashioned way of life. Ma had a garden and traded tomatoes for eggs with her neighbor, who kept a flock of chickens. Women visited across the fence as they hung clothes on the line to dry.
Pa loaned his small, oft-repaired mower to the man across the street, who then helped repair the roof on Pa's little garage full of wooden boxes, tools and greasy old machine parts being saved for some other use.
At dusk we sat on the front porch, Pa in his rocker with his pipe and when someone walked by, they nodded and said hey, by name, as the neighbors all knew one another. Later we watched Ed Sullivan on the one station that came in on the tiny, round TV screen.
These "ancient" times' before mass electronics and hundreds of TV channels meant fewer conveniences and more work, but to my young self it seemed a more gentle and practical way of life. People knew they could count on their neighbors in times of need. Folks tended to re-use anything of value, and if it was broken, parts could be used to fix something else.
Tools were resharpened and used for many years, and shared as needed. Canning jars lasted decades, and clothes were repaired and used as long as possible, finally ending up as scraps braided together to make a new rug, or pieced together for a quilt. It was assumed adults had these skills, and children learned them by watching and helping.
These days, as the economy has slowed and as prices go up while paychecks stay the same, more people are again looking for ways to get their needs met while spending less. Vegetable gardens are springing up everywhere, as families enjoy the flavor of fresh, organic foods. People are rediscovering the pleasure of a few hens in the yard, and the much better taste of eggs they gather each morning.
This summer's devastating climate change-related drought is motivating many people to use less fossil energy by repairing, re-using and recycling all kinds of things. People are rediscovering old and new ways to reduce waste, save energy, and make do.
As for my family, we moved recently from a 2,300-square-foot house in a wooded rural area to one much smaller in town, cheaper to heat and nearer to stores and work. We have a vegetable garden, and plan to build a chicken coop next spring.
Our paychecks are not stretching as far these days, and as our employers deal with shrinking budgets, our jobs are less secure. We are learning some of the skills my great-grandparents took for granted, and by connecting with our new neighbors we hope to increase our community's self-reliance while reducing our energy dependence.
This is why I have been involved in Transition Whatcom, a local grassroots effort to make Bellingham and Whatcom County more resilient as energy issues impact our economy and climate, and why I have been meeting with other transition members to plan the First Whatcom SkillShare Faire, an event to highlight many of the self-reliance skills practiced in the past and some wonderful new ones as well.
The fair will include demonstrations by local experts on keeping bees, raising poultry, composting, canning, braiding a rug, building a rocket stove, growing, harvesting and threshing grains, using water barrels, starting a garden, building your own bicycle, quilting and all kinds of other useful skills.
We have a treasure of elders in our community who can teach the old skills, and a plethora of younger craftspeople, inventors and creative types who have learned useful new ones. So whether you want to learn how to do something new, or if you're just curious, I hope you will come out, bring your families, and meet some of these individuals as they share their talents with us.
There will also be spaces for people who want to barter for goods and services, and the event will include some great local musicians, food and some other fun surprises. I hope this will become an annual event, and I'm excited that our community is moving towards being resilient and secure, with the skills to provide for all no matter what the future brings.
Katherine Clark moved to Bellingham in 1980 and has been active in the area ever since volunteering with Puget Sounders in the early '80s. From Transition Whatcom to hosting the WigOut with her sister, Alice, she dedicates her free time to building community. For more information on the SkillShare event, go to whatcomskillsharefaire.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-739-1968.
Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.email@example.com.