Fan Si Pan Summer Trip. from Fan Si Pan on Vimeo.

These dudes are making quality bags in Maine. Love the video, which figures because Joe Radano made it. Not much more to say about that.

August 26, 2014 Maine


Very, very happy to have had my book, Get Back Stay Back: 2nd Generation Back-to-the-landers, featured in the first-ever Maine Farmlands Trust Journal: Maine Farms and on Anthology Magazine’s blog.

“Anthology?” you ask. But isn’t that a high-end, lovingly prepared, San Francisco-based design and decor magazine? What’s a guy like you, writing about about hippies and farming have anything to do with that?

Well, a while back, my apartment ended up featured in the magazine thanks to a completely random turn of events. A friend of a friend is the art director for the pub, they had a photographer and stylist heading to Maine to shoot local design bon vivants Wary Meyers’ home, and they needed another place to make the trip pay off for everyone involved.

I’m not the type of guy to be like, “Yo, check my crib,” but my wife and I do happen to live in a pretty neat spot. The photographer and stylist team, a husband and wife, native Utahns based in Manhattan (Seth and Kendra Smoot) made it an awesome day. We hit it off and long story short, I ended up writing the piece myself.

You can download it on my portfolio site if you want to take a look. And I would sure be remiss if I didn’t flog the living daylights out of my book, which is still definitely for sale HERE.

July 18, 2014 Back to the Land, Maine


Leave to Vice of all places to produce a compelling piece of journalism about the future of solar. When it comes to clean, green technologies, few have held as much promise for the future of our plant–and our collective ability to say “forget this” and opt out–as the sun’s rays.

Problem is, as the hippie homesteaders of the 1970s found, it’s expensive stuff. Today their kids, the second generation back-to-the-landers are finding much the same thing. Start up costs are high, and ROI is mostly long term.

But things are looking up. According to this article, when Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu stepped down as energy secretary last winter, he revealed that in 10 short years we’ll be in pretty good shape. “We’re following a learning curve, we see at least a decade of continuous improvement,” he said, noting that we’re seeing the price of solar in Power Purchase Agreements, or the contracts between energy producers and buyers, plummeting. “Now its 14-15 cents per kilowatt hour, going on 11-12. It’s a very exciting downward trend.” His SunShot Initiative (modeled after JFK’s Moonshot) is largely to thank for the advancements.

Maybe a decade from now we’ll all finally be able to find that special place in the country where we can really tell the utility company where to stick it.

July 15, 2014 Back to the Land

I’m giving this Buzzfeed list about a 50/50 crap/genius rating, but it’s generally pretty good. #1, 3, 5, 8, 11, 12, 14 and 15 really hit home for me.

June 23, 2014 Back to the Land

The cover of Michael Lewis' Flash Boys
There’s a lot of talk these days about the infallibility of data. In this, as in most things, a little historical perspective goes a long way — because people have been cooking the numbers as long as numbers have existed.

If you’re like me, you probably feel like anyone preaching that gospel is either wildly uncreative or stands to benefit directly from the wholesale allegiance to scores and figures that fall a long ways short of summing up the complexity of the human experience.

Wall Street, often touted as the ultimate example of the supremacy of quant reason and logic, is a great example. Most of us know that everything about the stock market is inherently a few — or many — angles out of skew. “Highest population of psychopaths of any industry ever,” blah blah blah. But how bad is it really?

Michael Lewis, author of The Blind Side and Moneyball tackles that question in his new book Flash Boys. The answer is: very. If the “why” of it is obvious, the “how” will leave you with steam shooting out of your ears.

In Lewis’ ridiculously able hands, the fixing of the entire financial market by just a few individuals comes alive. I won’t even attempt to get into the nitty gritty, Lewis’ ability to break down a hustle this complex is what makes him an author for the ages. Instead, in true WW&W fashion, I will rely on expletive to get my point across: What has played out in the world of high frequency trading since 2009 is totally, completely fucked.

Thanks to the nice people at W.W. Norton & Co., Wool Wood and Whiskey has FIVE HARDCOVER copies of Flash Boys to dish out to long time readers — right on the cusp of Father’s Day. You or dad can learn all about just how crazy things have gotten on what is apparently the wildest digital frontier. If you pass it along to Pops though, just make sure he’s not too deep into the G&Ts if he’s heavily invested. Stuff might get thrown.

FIRST FIVE COMMENTERS BELOW GET A COPY OF THE BOOK SHIPPED DIRECT TO THEIR DOORSTEP BY FATHER’S DAY.

Just please be sure to enter a valid email — that’s how we’ll contact you for your post address.

And check out Michael Lewis on the Daily Show for a way better primer on the book and story than I could ever scratch out if you need some convincing.

PS–Open to US residents only! Sorry rest of the world!

***It just came to my attention that if you’re viewing this post on the Wool Wood and Whiskey homepage, there’s no comment form — whoops! You just have to go to http://www.woolwoodandwhiskey.com/2014/06/10/fathers-day-giveaway/ and comment at the bottom of the post.***

Antoine Bruy Scrublands from Antoine BRUY on Vimeo.

French photographer Antoine Bruy has spent years documenting urban refugees living self-sufficient lifestyles in remote places across Europe. The resulting images, many of which can been seen in this video, are a frank depiction of the realities of living wildly in wild places.

Next year he’s hoping to train his lens on the Appalachian backcountry here in the US. With help from this fundraising video, he’s hoping to release a book of photos from this body of work.

Via The New Yorker.

May 27, 2014 Back to the Land


This is way late, but a week or so ago I published what might be my best piece of writing yet. It’s for SinglesClub.fm, a radical new, mixed-media, web-and-good-old-analog-music project.

A while back, Jeffrey Silverstein, who is one half of the duo behind the project, contacted me because they were looking for someone to write about my buddy Bob, aka Small Sur. The idea is that Jeffrey and his partner, Chris Muccioli, record and press previously unreleased 7-inch singles with a bands of their choosing. Quarterly, they mail a record to subscribers via US Post, and meanwhile they publish a series of piece on the musician(s) on their online music journal.

Calling it radical isn’t an exaggeration. The journal is one of the best multi-media websites I’ve seen yet–right up there with the New York Times’ “Snow Fall” piece.

I’m glad to have been able to contribute what I think is my most fully-realized story so far to the effort. Writing about friends is obviously shaky ground journalistically, but I made a special exception for a friend who also happens to be one of my favorite musicians.

Read “Daylight Savings” on SinglesClub.fm here.


Tomorrow night, it’s all coming back around again. Finally, after trying valiantly to throw a proper book launch party in a blizzard last February, I think we’re going to get it right!

7-9pm, I’ll be hosting a party/reading/discussion at The Telling Room in downtown Portland (225 Commercial Street, Suite 201). The Telling Room is an amazing writing and literacy center for kids, where I’m luck enough to be employed.

Consider yourself invited–I’ll have books on had for sale and signing, and my folks are bringing some light apps!

More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/525655684213978/?source=3&source_newsfeed_story_type=regular

April 30, 2014 Back to the Land

Twighlight at Rowbottom's Dairy just outside Skowhegan, Maine.

Twighlight at Rowbottom's Dairy just outside Skowhegan, Maine.


A few weeks ago, I was sitting on a plane to Oregon, planning a lecture for a history class at my alma mater–Lewis and Clark College. For the better part of three years I had puzzled over the dynamic that I watched play out time and time again as I researched and studied the back-to-the-land movement. I just couldn’t understand why it was such a contentious chapter in our state’s history. A bunch of kids moved out to the country and tried to grow their own food–what could be more American than that?

Somewhere over the mountain states, it finally occurred to me. By asking people about what had actually happened back then, here where the movement really began, I wasn’t just stirring up the pot. As a younger person who was not there, by approaching the topic in a serious way–treating it as something worthy of being researched and studied–I was assigning it significance. To the people who lived it, many times it was just a moment of youthful idealism, gone and faded back into the fabric of the culture from whence it sprang. But by calling it a significant moment, me and everyone else who finds themselves interested in back-to-the-land living are essentially calling it history.

That means that, at least on some levels, we’re validating some of what went on back then. Sure, everything that the hippies who fled to the hillsides of Maine tried out didn’t work, but that they tried–in the wake of an unprecedented period of social upheaval that’s hard to comprehend today–matters. Somewhere over the mountain states, at 35,000 feet, I finally got it.

The dairy barn, just after 2nd milking and just before dinner.


It would seem that the idea of going back to the land is having another moment, and it’s pretty awesome to have my book be a part of the conversation. Shortly after it was released, I had a great talk with Meredith Goad at the Portland Press Herald headquarters. It was exciting to have a few of my thoughts about the evolution of the back-to-the-land movement included in the comprehensive piece she later put together on the origins of farm-to-table dining in Maine.

But while customers who help feed Maine’s booming farmers’ market economy may be willing to shell out a little more for MOO products or a lot more for raw milk at $8 a gallon, the price tags on Maine farmland are another story altogether.

“People in the ’70s came up here and bought tons of acreage for $1,500 bucks or whatever, and their children now, by and large, have almost nothing relating to that kind of access to land,” says Joseph Conway, the author of a book about second-generation farmers called “Get Back, Stay Back.” This generation, he noticed, tends to lease. They are less romantic about their choices, because they have to be. “They’re not looking at a huge old farmhouse that costs so much to heat and keep up in addition to the farming commitment,” Conway said. They’ve scaled back the intensity, he added, “they’re not trying to reinvent the whole financial system, but they’re trying to use the basic functions of capitalism to do things like build community.” Capitalism, but 21st-century capitalism, where a Kickstarter campaign might get you that mill stone you need.

Such an approach may not have as much counter-cultural oomph as scruffy hair, unruly beards and tie-dyed clothes, but in becoming more mainstream the new generation of back-to-the-landers may have more impact on the world than their parents did. They’ll just do it wearing a MOFGA T-shirt, Carhartts and work boots. And they’ll do it with a better understanding of the opportunities the food they grow have. Their wheat could end up in Jim Amaral’s artisanal bakery, Borealis Breads. Or their beets on David Levi’s table at Vinland. Or their tempeh in the hands of a parent eager to cook for his family using only ingredients from farms they can visit, here in Maine.

But real tests may lie ahead.

Author Conway said his generation of new farmers are in a “touch and go” situation, despite all they’ve got going for them. Government regulations, he pointed out, favor corporate farming. “The fact that some of these people are choosing this lifestyle is borderline miraculous. The deck is really stacked against small farms, of any type, in our society.”

Then, earlier this week, the Bangor Daily News dropped the first installment in a series of articles on Mainers chasing The Good Life. It’s a great primer on how the movement built up a head of steam forty years ago.

Three years ago, I had a hunch all of this sentiment was about to come back around. It’s been fun to study, and even more fun to watch the idea take back off.

Panorama shot on one of my research trips for Get Back Stay Back, downeast Maine.

Pacific Standard magazine is really getting it done these days. First, there was this story about $4 toast in San Francisco by deputy editor John Gravois that This American Life picked up (hint: it’s about what you think it’s about).

Then, over the course of a week in early April, Yukon Territory-based freelance writer Eva Holland summarily lined up and knocked down a series of pieces on what it means to opt out of society in the modern world. Below are links to a few of my favorites, along with a smattering of the best lines from each:

Opting Out: What Is Homesteading, and Why Does It Matter Today?

The idea is at the heart of the early American dream: Land for anyone who’s willing to work it.

Opting Out: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity

The people who are most interested in pursuing these kinds of slowed-down, more home-focused lifestyles are educated middle-class people. They have the education and enough money to even consider spending their free time growing vegetables (as opposed to having to work double shifts cleaning office buildings, say), but don’t have enough money to simply buy their way out of the problems of modern life—hiring nannies, buying all of their expensive organic veggies at Whole Foods. They have the education level to have high expectations for job satisfaction, yet are likely to have mid-level, unsatisfying jobs (as opposed to the high-powered, high-status jobs of the truly rich).

–Emily Matchar, author of Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity

 

Opting Out: Papa Pilgrim and the Lure of Off-Grid Wilderness Living

Alaska’s national parks legislation allowed for people to live off-grid in pockets of privately held land within the larger preserves, but it didn’t allow for what Papa Pilgrim did next: bulldoze a road across 13 miles of federal land.