Brotherwood: An Exemplary Forest Cloister

(c) 2012, Davd

This summer could have been the season of my 50th wedding anniversary, had the woman i married stayed the course we vowed to journey together1. Had we stayed together, i would probably be spending this summer as one of the founding couple of an extended family, and i won’t guess exactly where in Canada we might now live. I have made mistakes in this life, and so has she; but in more marriage-friendly times, and had laws continued to support marriage vows as they did in most of the industrial “West” in 1962, me-thinks those mistakes could have been mere mud-holes in the metaphor of marriage as portage2.

Times changed: She demanded a separation, “took up” with another man, and the marriage ended: The same kind of thing has happened to millions of men in Canada alone. Whether one million or 2-5 million Canadian men have suffered “divorce abuse”3, several millions have grown up in a social and legal milieu unfriendly to husbands and fathers—and compared to the milieu of 1962, their experience is also a form of “this kind of thing happening to them”. Counting younger men as well as “Boomers-and-older”, i am one of several million Canadian men (and roughly ten times as many men in the US)_ who are decent, likable, competent, and more faithful to our friends than the Law and Feminism have been to us.

We might ought to enjoy one another’s virtues more of the day and the week and the year, really. Good men are good company.

Earlier this month, i wrote a general posting on the merits of “cloister” households for men like us. There can be a great diversity of “groups of men going their chosen way together”; what it takes to “go our own way together”, is each group having a choice in common that is humane and enjoyable—for those particular men. Just for a few examples, different groups of men might run an addiction rehabilitation centre, experimental farm, mountain rescue service (think St. Bernard), orphanage for boys, “think tank” (think Luther, Melanchthon, and their colleagues), or wildlife refuge. Several cloisters could even team up and start a university. There probably are hundreds of other possibilities that can combine improving the human or planetary condition with seclusion from the evils of the world—and one of those other possibilities is the one i want most to be involved in.

In the latter 20th Century, the commonest way of cloistered men was “liturgical prayer services”, the second-commonest was contemplation, the cloisters of men who chose these ways were called monasteries, and the men who cloistered together for one of those purposes, were called monks.

I spent three weeks in 2005 sojourning in a monastery that i had chosen, not for its liturgical main focus, but for its history of helping the families, farms and towns of northern Saskatchewan (cf. Graham, 1990, ch.16). Those weeks confirmed for me, both the merits of a cloistered household of imperfect but well-motivated men, and my own calling to working with growing plants and social-animation-by-example more than to chanting liturgy.

My “vision” is of, my ambition is for, a small community as cloisters go, up to fifteen resident men at full size, living in a modern, solar-and-kachelofen4 heated house with individual bedrooms and enough common-space to give three or more choices where subgroups can meet and do different things. I expect the kitchen to be located on the sunny side of the main floor and serve as one of those social spaces, and that another social space, designed to serve for group prayer services and also for discussions, will be located on the other side of the kachelofen, with a fireplace for warmth and ambiance.

To the south and southeast of the “cloister house” will be a “practical prayer garden” containing fruit trees, grapevines, bushes of the more decorative berries, culinary herbs, and perhaps some early and late vegetables. Whether a pond growing brook-trout for the kitchen can also be in that landscape, i can’t yet say; but i do want the community to grow trout for food somewhere on the property, and to demonstrate the art for local families to adopt.

A short walk away will be a larger orchard, food gardens, a guest house, and a barn or other large workshop-and-storage building. Beyond the houses, gardens and orchards (“away from the road”,) will be some 90 acres of forest whose care is a large part of the community’s subsistence—and of our Good Works. The men of the community will have a variety of subsistence work choices: Forestry, gardening, orchard-keeping [which can be thought of as intermediate between gardening and forestry], plant propagation and seedsaving, probably aquaculture and beekeeping; sawmilling and some kind of light manufacturing involving local wood species; and of course, housekeeping tasks including cooking, cleaning, building and tool maintenance. Imaginably, if men join the community who have farming skills and interest, more land will be acquired nearby and farming5 added to the work list.

This work will not fill a man’s day unless he chooses to do more work than necessary: As “The Futuris” wrote in 2010, “A single man does not require much in order to survive. Most single men could eke out a comfortable existence by working for two months out of the year“. Cloisters are more efficient than average North American living arrangements, so “working one-sixth time” ought to be ample for the community to subsist. (During the time that the main house is being built and the gardens and orchards established, half-time or more at practical work may be required—to “build sweat-equity”, as it might be phrased in financial language.)

Monks work one-tenth to one-quarter as much as we call “full-time”, and spend much of the remainder of their days at prayer—some liturgical, some contemplative. I expect the men of Brotherwood will spend some time at prayer, each day; but more at writing, research, teaching, and at even-more-direct “Good Works.” As of this writing, i can only state goals, not procedures: In “we will” and “we might” language, here’s what i propose:

We will develop and exemplify frugal social efficiency. The main house will exemplify social efficiency in its arrangement of living and working space. The prayer gardens will also be food gardens. Our ecoforestry will exemplify the virtues of diversity, nutrient cycle integrity, and prudence. Our kitchen will prepare and present the delights of foods that grow within walking distance. We will work in our own beautiful homestead, and eat well from the fruits of our labour; and our enjoyment will be motivation for others to copy some of our techniques.

We will develop and exemplify a better economic foundation than bureaucratic “socialism” or greed-based capitalism.  For now, not having developed a specific plan for that economic foundation yet, i can heuristically call it “The Economics of Goodwill.” I don’t expect a community of 5-15 to need a 20-40 tree orchard for food, for example; not even if we make cider, dried apple slices, dried plums, plum wine, and hundreds of litres per-year of applesauce; and feed some apples to a logging horse. The orchard can also feed some of our friends and neighbours and provide us apples and cider to give in the kinds of no-contract, no-money exchanges that i believe Jesus Christ taught as superior to both profit-first capitalism and bureaucratic socialism.

I would like to have a small sawmill with the same kind of usage pattern as the orchard, just to name one very different “kind of technology”. If a man shows up who knows and likes beekeeping, that might become one of our “demos”.

We will support rejected men and fatherless boys. (We will also support husbands against rejection and boys whose fathers, like all men, are imperfect; but those who have kinsmen to support them will need less from us.) I will guess that when we have our house built, if not before, we will host retreats (with many retreat guests staying in guest rooms outside the main house, especially in warm weather.) We might conduct, write-up, and publish research.

We will support women who are faithful to their men and boys—but because of misandry and uncertainty, we may often do so rather warily. Don’t take it personally, women of goodwill—the blame belongs to man-hating sects of Feminism, not to you (nor to us.) Paradoxically, by laying excess burdens of proof on us, those Feminist lobbyists laid them on you also.

We might well host retreats and small conferences in support of our social animation, and start a publishing-house. Seclusion from the distractions of the “ordinary world” is conducive to good thinking, good writing, and good discipline.

We might well facilitate the start-ups of co-operative households and enterprises, including housing and car-sharing co-operatives of single men. The hardwoods that grow in this region could feed a flooring “mill”, a furniture shop, or both. With farmers in the region being few and transportation costs rising, much food is imported, and the prices are rising. A co-operative farm might be a good way for several men to start farming: If at least one of them knows each of the necessary skills, they can teach one another and cover all the work. I would be surprised if among ten readers of this text, there isn’t at least one addition to the list….

Most important perhaps, we will practice brotherly-love and mutual help, with the result that we will be serenely happy while needing remarkably little money. Such joy is honest persuasion for whatever brings it about.

All men are mortal is one of the axioms of philosophy and one of the commonest statements used to teach logic: It is used especially to teach the nature of the syllogism, more often than any other i have read. The usual specific form of the lesson continues: ____ is a man; therefore, ___ is mortal.

Well, that includes me: I am a man, and i am mortal. When i die (and i am nearer the end of life than the beginning) i want to see this forest i have put thousands of hours in “stewarding”, held, enjoyed, managed, and improved by brothers in faith, fellowship, and fidelity.

Feminism has given many men cause for despair and laughed at them, one might say diabolically. I cannot remember into what play Shakespeare put the following despairing lines, whether Hamlet, Macbeth, or another; but i quote them here, as they have been quoted in millions of classrooms before now, this time as a challenge:

Out! Out! brief candle;

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

who struts and frets his hour upon the stage

and then is heard no more. It is a tale

told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

signifying nothing.

We can do better than that.  Our lives, brief or not, can be more than a tale told by an idio–though the past several decades have seen ample idiocy. Instead of strutting and fretting, let us dig and plant, propagate and save seed, prune and thin and protect the best trees, prune vines, make wines, cook very well, and most of all, practice philios and give it its proper, first place among the names and kinds of love.

If the past few decades have done worse, so-much the worse for them. We can do better. Who’s up for the task? Who’s more ready for brotherhood than for trying to be the tickliest cock on the carousel? It is the carousel, and the dressed-up cocks that ride it and are ridden on it, that look to these old eyes, to be full of sound and fury, signifying less than nothing.

We can do better. Let us find out how much better, in the only possible way–by doing it.

References:

Amneus, Daniel, 1999. The Case for Father Custody. Alhambra, California: Primrose Press.

Ardrey, Robert, 1963. African Genesis. NY: Delta paperback.

Catton, William R., Jr. 1980 Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. Urbana, London, and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Paperback 1982

Durant, Will, 1957. The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin: 1300-1564. NYC: Simon and Schuster.

Graham, Ron, 1990. God’s Dominion: A Skeptic’s Quest Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. ISBN 0-7710-3522-S

Lenski, Gerhard, Jean Lenski, and Patrick Nolan, 1991. Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Martin, Davd, 1998. “Homestead Land Tenure: An Option for Better Forestry” Ecoforestry 13:2 [September]26-30

Martin, Davd, 2009 “The Most Productive Forests” Ecoforestry 21: 1&2 (June) 4-5,

Martin, Davd, 2009 “The Essence of Ecoforestry” Ecoforestry 21: 1&2 (June) 29-30

Martin, Davd, 2009 “Three Cardinal Eco-Virtues” Ecoforestry 21: 1&2 (June) 38-44.

Wells, H. G. 1961. The Outline of History Book Club edition, vol, 2. Garden City, NY.

References with “urls”:

http://www.everyman.ca/2012/01/03/men-going-their-own-way-in-groups-a-success-story/

http://www.everyman.ca/2012/01/11/co-operative-frugality-the-good-life-on-a-minimum-of-money/

http://www.everyman.ca/2012/04/17/the-case-for-a-flourishing-of-mens-cloisters/

http://www.singularity2050.com/2010/01/the-misandry-bubble.html

Endnotes:

1. I acknowledge that it is logically possible that i would have “strayed” sometime between then and now; “nothing is certain in this life.” However, i had resisted several temptations without so much as a kiss, over the years we were married and i was a graduate student and then a junior professor. Sexual concupiscence declines with age, i took my marriage vows seriously, and not long after our separation, the laws changed to make divorce even less appealing to men. In a Feminist last third of the 20th Century, she was the one being culturally urged to stray, not i … which is no excuse, but perhaps a reason.

2. To those who knew the portage between Moose and Fowl lakes on the Pigeon River, as of the early 1970s, i’d say that before she told me to leave, the mud-holes in our marriage were far fewer than in that particular trail. (The house and land were bought in her name, a gift from me in appreciation of ten years of mostly stay-home motherhood.)

3. Calculating the number more exactly is a worthwhile thesis project for someone. Knowing that at least one million Canadian men have seen and suffered the betrayal of their marriage vows, is enough for this preamble.

4. A kachelofen is a massive masonry structure containing at least one and usually three or more fireboxes, with one of the multiple fireboxes heating a cooking surface on which pots and pans sit, another [usually] heating an oven. All fires heat the mass of masonry, which then releases that heat to warm the house. Each fire, at least in the designs i have seen, has its own flue, and each flue forms a loop to permit most of the heat from the fire to go into the masonry (but with a shortcut to facilitate draft when a fire is being started). A 3-4 firebox kachelofen could be massive enough to support the inner ends of floor joists, so that a rather large house could have a perimeter foundation, a central kachelofen, and few or no other load-bearing footings.

5. Farming differs from gardening in being “mass-production”, usually mechanized, work; while gardening is plant-by-plant work, as are orchard-keeping and forestry. I am a gardener and ecoforester, but not a farmer.

 

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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together “in peace and brotherhood” for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.

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