Tag Archives: sustainability

Adventure Enablers

Occasionally, I am lucky enough to have readers say “wow, that was a great post/cool adventure/link/whatever, how can I support your blog?” I’ve never really wanted to raise money from this little writing project, but the adventures don’t happen for free. One thing that has made most of these stories possible are generous friends in far away places. Margaret has hosted me, fed me, and driven me around Alaska countless days and nights. Now, she’s looking for a loan for her business supporting the local food movement in Alaska. Join me in supporting her campaign thru Kiva.org, and consider making a donation to Kiva while you are there.


You can read about some of my time with Margaret here, here, and here. If you haven’t heard of kiva.org, they provide a platform for micro-finance loans all over the world. I’ve been a supporter since 2015 and generally have made a point of supporting small construction entrepreneurs in South America. I’ve also loved supporting a couple more local friends over the years. If voting with your dollars matters, this is the best way I’ve found to do it.


It is important to remember that the most important, special, things tend to happen in just their own time- and that time has been the last 9 days.

This past weekend I was again at Prairie Heritage Farm to slaughter turkeys for Thanksgiving.  You’ve seen the pictures from last year, so I’ll spare the gory details, and if last weekend wasn’t one to celebrate my anniversary in Montana, this one certainly was.

The high, northern plains.

There’s a feeling I get being out there, on the high northern plains.  The openness of the land and the warmth of its people remind me why the hard, unglamorous work of farming is what has shaped many of the richest, and most fulfilling parts of our culture.  Jacob and Courtney seem to draw a particularly beautiful crew of people each year to help with the grisly work- I was particularly privileged to enjoy the company of my new friend Katie for the drive from Missoula to Power, and our shared work slitting throats together.  We had glorious weather, and spectacular new facilities for the slaughter- making this year less about “getting through it”, and more about “doing it right and having fun.

Getting what she came for.

Farm-fresh and amazing, dinner is not to be missed.

The introspective observations:

  • As much as I enjoy my time on the farm, I don’t feel compelled to farm- but I do feel compelled to empower other people to farm.
  • The hard and unglamorous work of farming often mirrors the hard, unglamorous work of contracting- and I like that.
  • Being around this group of people made me start to seriously think about my own aspirations in participating in the sustainable food system.  How can I participate more?

A humble day of work and 10 gallons of blood.

The practical observations:

  • People always look funnier with turkey blood splattered on their faces.

“I told you not to look directly at the turkey…”

  • Turkey farts smell really bad, and are hilarious.

    The look on little Declan’s face says it all…

  • There is such a thing as “sipping Tequila.”

It was a special weekend, and no doubt I got what I came for.

A few other highlights from the last 9 days:

  • I had a hilariously good time as a guest soloist with the Dodgy Mountain Men last Thursday night as Missoula said goodnight to our beloved Top Hat (until spring of 2013).  Thank you gentlemen, and I look forward to more songs soon.


  • Despite a year of injuries and training focused entirely elsewhere- I still put 10 more pounds on my best-ever deadlift last Tuesday night.
  • Last Sunday I took the first few steps on the next BIG adventure.  Stay tuned.

Safe to say, I will have plenty to give Thanks for at the table this Thursday.

The Seeley-Swan at sunset.


I got a letter yesterday, and while the content was important, I noticed something different about the envelope:

Freedom, forever? I am very afraid not.

It was the way the American flag and the words below it were crossed out.  We in America (‘merica!) seem to care so much about our freedom, but what “freedom” is really about is energy- the energy to put food on our tables, to stay warm, and also to have fun.  In essence- the energy to live.  Yet, when people talk about freedom in America, they rarely talk about energy, and when I think about our energy situation, it makes me think freedom is surely on the way out.

Some people who even like to talk about things like “sustainability” generally don’t get the picture about how much energy matters.  “Sustainability” is all the rage in the building design community, it’s even (slowly) taking hold here in western Montana- but it tends to result in wheatgrass fiber wall paneling and bamboo floors rather than energy conservation.

Sustainability is not about your wall finish, riding your bike to work, or your office-wide recycling program.  A fair look in the mirror: sustainability is also not about my patagonia clothesmy used Jetta TDI, or the fact that I don’t have kids to provide for.  Sustainability is about thermodynamics, plain and simple.  Thermo-what?  Thermodynamics- the science of energy.  It’s an abstraction, it can seem hard to understand, and it is such an essential part of our everyday life.  These things are all great, and in some small ways, parts of the solution- but really its going to take a lot more.

Buildings are an amazing opportunity- everyone uses them, they all have utility bills, and almost all of them could benefit from design and/or retrofit work that would make a significant difference in energy consumption.  If your utility bill isn’t zero (seriously!), then it needs work.  Am I an elitist?  Does it matter?  It doesn’t matter if we have 40 years of oil and coal left or 400 years.   We aren’t living right and each of us needs to play a part of changing that.  What do you want to know about energy?  How can we make energy consumption more visible?  What does a real plan for “freedom” look like?  I look forward to your thoughts in the comments.

“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or a politician.” (Miklos S Dora, paraphrasing Kenneth Boulding)

Hard Knocks

I answered a call from the office this morning in the cold, damp crawlspace that I’ve spent most of this week in.  My colleague asked how it was going- I replied, “if you had told me how much stuff I would screw up on this job before I started, I wouldn’t have believed you.”  I realized over lunch- I must be attending the school of hard knocks.

If it looks like a maze...

When you are 6’1″ tall and working long days installing ductwork in a 4′ tall, 4,000 s.f. crawlspace, knocking your head into a floor joist every once in a while is to be expected.  Along the way, this project also managed to knock out my design skills, planning ability, and a good portion of my self-esteem.

My position is as a project manager, responsible for everything that it takes to make a job happen (including making a profit!).  In this case (and with a lot of help!), I met the client, wrote the proposal, designed the system, ordered the material, scheduled the job, and installed the system (with the install team).  The process is far more integrated than most other firms, but we believe that leads to higher quality, better performance, and greater profit.  I’m new to the job, and new to contracting, and none of the above really has all that much to do with my past experience, which involved managing very different types of engineering projects.

22" diameter ductwork is all custom. Don't forget anything, because it's 55 miles back to Missoula.

We aren’t quite done yet, but we are almost all the way there.  Fair being fair, I made no truly major, work stopping mistakes, but every day there have been significant errors that have come to light- some piece of gear I didn’t order, some task I didn’t follow through on. When you are actually trying to build a functional system, every error is glaring.  Day 1, we ran into all sorts of issues- shipping delays, forgotten plans, miscommunicated orders.  On my first day of my first big job, I figured I could shrug it off and keep going.  Day 2, missing fittings and layout changes, ok nothing fatal, but that’s low style Skander…  Day 3, order of operation, co-ordination failure, error tracking nightmares.  The mistakes kept coming, almost to the point of humor and pretty much my worst nightmare from a project management standpoint.  Suffice to say, it has been a valuable education in hard knocks.

For everything though that went wrong, none of it seemed to impact the amount of satisfaction I got out of getting to install something that I designed.  It reminds me of one of my favorite NY Times pieces.  I have an incredibly forgiving and good natured boss working with me (but letting me take responsibility for the mistakes) and helping look in the mirror at my work.  We joked about the fact that I have a degree in science from an expensive private university, and yet the real bread and butter of business and design still involves getting down in an unfinished crawlspace and knocking your head around.  It’s been a hard week so far, but also supremely satisfying.  I’m taking tomorrow off, but back again on Friday to wrap things up, stay tuned.

Humbled, with checklist in hand.

“The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love), pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.” (Wendell Berry)

Do the humble work.