Monday, November 23, 2009

How Much Land Does a Sailor Need?

Tolstoy’s short story – “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” ( concludes with the rather morbid treatise that 6’ is adequate. I think about this conclusion often in my landless floating existence. I realize though, that Tolstoy’s conclusion is accurate in death not life.

The simple truth is we all need land. I can’t say how much, but I know I have an unconventional view point as I’m not much interested in putting my name on any. We need land to grow food, and to walk on. We need it to derive fuel and decompose waste. We need it to build and manufacture. Most folks need it to live and dwell upon. That’s the only point I really can claim exemption from.

Most indigenous peoples viewed their relationship with land very differently from our societal norm. My limited understanding is that theirs was a stewardship role and not an ownership one. I was a fly on the wall for an argument between a local tenant and an American landlord on a Caribbean island once. The part I remember came after the American told the local to “get off his mountain.” The reply, “Mountain be here long after you dead,” will stick with me forever. I’m not passing judgment here, but it does seem to me that we get into an inordinate amount of trouble by elevating land to the status of our ultimate possession and investment. Community doesn’t benefit from real estate profit flip.

So I borrow and rent land. Not a lot of it, but a path to and from the sea, some to plant and harvest, and a bit to store parts and build ideas into objects. Even a bit for an office to work out thoughts like these. This may prove a foolish decision in later life, but freedom from debt has certainly made early and midlife nice.

One of the places I borrow is a field of new growth swamp trees. The ground is soft and the trees grow close and tall with out much in way of roots. I think it was a farmed field in the not too distant past. Every year a few of the spindly trees are blown over and if I get to them before the bugs, they make pretty good firewood for my tiny woodstove. One year I struck upon the idea of using the stump hole from a previously uprooted tree as the end location for the proceeds from Charis’s composting head. Since the ash from the stove is part of the carbon source I mix into the compost, it seemed a pretty good full circle sort of solution. Those who are ready to cry environmental foul need not worry. As I have explained elsewhere, I have provided myself with the means to contain and compost waste in isolation from the ground for a minimum of about 10 to 12 months before returning it to the earth. So, lacking a flower bed or shrub base in need of fertilization, and anticipating the scarcity of dinner guests if I used the stuff in my vegetable garden, I simply filled in the stump hole.

Now I don’t have offspring, and many think this speaks well for the intelligence of women as a gender. And lest any should think I’m single for lack of understanding of the mechanisms of carrying on the race, I know this isn’t how it is done. But when I returned to the woods this fall to claim some downed wood, I have to admit to twinges of paternity toward this little holly tree due to where it is growing…


  1. Lovely!

    I haven't read Thoreau in quite a while....

    Happy Thanksgiving, little Holly tree.

  2. Hi,

    Enjoying the blog!

    Have linked. Buying my first 'liveaboard' in a few weeks!