Timothy Hewitt-Coleman

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since Sep 30, 2013
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Port Elizabeth, South Africa (34 degrees south)
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Recent posts by Timothy Hewitt-Coleman

Is it time for us to start re-ruralizing?

(this Opinion Piece first appeared in THE HERALD on 16 June 2022 - but I thought my Permies friends my enjoy it too)

It’s a grey and dreary winter’s day. My thoughts go to Youth Day as I drive down Buffelsfontein road toward my regular Walmer coffee spot. My mind dwells on the sad truth that the passenger seats in my car are all empty. My children have now grown and left this town for a brighter future. No youth in my car this youth day.
My gloomy sadness is interrupted though, by an unfamiliar sight by the side of the road. A makeshift water station on the verge with a number of emergency taps on light blue plastic standpipes. Our answer to “Day Zero,” I am told, has been to drill boreholes in strategic spots and allow people to fill containers of water enough to drink and cook and clean with. Later, over coffee, I can’t help but think, that if ever there was a monument built to mark the failure of government in this town of ours, then these blue standpipes are it. No political argument, no beaming Politian’s picture in the press or free pop concert for the masses can argue away these pipes. They are there standing boldly as monumental evidence of our inability to manage the affairs of this city region. The unavoidable truth is that government is failing at the most basic and fundamental level. Running water and flushing toilets are not rocket science. Running water is the most fundamental and non-negotiable starting point of what we have come to expect from urban living.
I am sorry to tell you though that I really don’t have any answer to the water problem. I’m simply using this very visible failure as an excuse to talk about a question that’s interesting to me right now:
Is it not time we begin to re-ruralise?
Is it not time that we accept that our current system, just does not have what it takes to effectively manage towns and cities? I mean, have you driven down the main road in Humansdorp lately? It’s one continuous pothole. Makhanda has had water problems for years. Mthata is chaos!!
Is it corruption? Is it white monopoly capital? Is it the construction mafia? Is it lazy officials who earn fat salaries but don’t deliver? I’m not interested in those questions right now. I am interested rather to zoom out a bit and consider the slightly larger question of why it is that we, as a civilisation, have decided to build cities and towns in the first place and whether the conditions that seemed to make cities and towns a good idea way back then, still prevail.
I can completely understand why the first towns and cities must have sprung up all those thousands of years ago in Iraq and elsewhere. Back then it was so much easier to get all the cool stuff you needed by living in a city like Eridu. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker were all right there. By contrast, your rural cousin had to figure out how to make what ever cool stuff he wanted all by himself. Living in the countryside was a ball ache!
With time, through the growth of civilisation, the industrial revolution and right up to the 21st century, cities became increasingly sexy. The city meant, running water and electricity. It meant education for your kids. It meant music and entertainment. It meant fun church and religious activities. It meant access to more potential romantic partners. It meant access to better health care. City living though (for all but the very rich) came at a huge price. City dwellers contend with crime, bad food, air pollution, overcrowding and worst of all; jobs to pay for all these conveniences and cool stuff. But perhaps the biggest price we paid was the loss of our connection with the land, the fresh smell of rain on the soil and the feeling of being part of the glorious living organism that is our mysterious planet.
What I see lately though is a glimmer of an exciting shift brought about by rapidly advancing technology. A discernible adjustment in focus from urban to rural. Thanks to solar and battery technology, we no longer need to live in a city to run a fridge or computer. Thanks to cheap electric pumps and plastic piping, rural homes can have running water and flush toilets. Very soon, even remote rural areas will have super-fast satellite internet. This will give rural people access to the highest quality education through apps like Udemy, the highest quality preaching for the religious-mined though apps like YouTube. It will give access to a huge pool of potential romantic partners through Tinder and Instagram. Sure, living in the city will still give you somethings that you just don’t get in the country, but I am open to the idea that the scales will begin to tip. As city living becomes increasingly less bearable, as we are no longer able to shower or water our tomato plant and as rural living becomes slightly less tedious, we make be shocked to see a landslide of people beginning to Re-ruralise. Of course, this trend will begin with the rich, but as we have seen with all technological change, these trends spread very, very fast to the poor. (Remember how cell phones were first just for millionaires and rock stars?)

I am very excited to see all this unfold in the very near future. Are you excited too?
1 year ago
Staying here at the farm now, and spending a lot of time working from my home office, has allowed be to develop a routine of 1 hour "gardening" a day. I mean sometimes it gardening, sometimes it cutting trees in the forest, other times it working with the pumps at the spring or with the chickens.

I made a little video to show my progress with building a banana circle, which I plan to become a central feature of my veggie garden.

2 years ago
The Forgotten Art of Subtraction

06 January 2022

Though it really seemed impossible to me at times, I have eventually settled in back at the cottage at Pebblespring Farm. I had set for myself the clear intention of having Christmas lunch with my family at the cottage. I am happy to say, we achieved this objective.

We had a lovely Christmas Lunch in the Cottage

Its been a lot of work getting the cottage into a semi-livable state again . I am not at all happy at all with the way in which the tenant I had treated the place. But I get the sense now that we will chip away at this project in our own time for as long as it takes.

There is something deeply satisfying about being here. Committing my energy to projects that feel that I “own” in someway. I am not exactly sure about why it feels so good, but the “why” of theses things is never really as important as just observing and taking note of the energy as it presents itself in my body and in my sense of well being.

I have been resting as much as I can in between the various cottage and farm projects. In my resting time at the dam in the morning, with my coffee, I have time to think a little. This morning I spent some time thinking about the work I love doing on the farm and in the forest. I notice that this work, over the last few years, has largely to do with taking away what I don’t want. It has largely to do with “subtracting” and not to do with adding. When I am working with the chainsaw removing the alien invasive Inkberry (Cestrum laevigatum) or the Long Leaved Wattle (Acacia longifolia), my strategy has been to remove what I don’t want, quite surgically, then sitting back and watching as the new forest, new life and new beauty emerges. In the forest, I do not plant the new trees. I do not introduce the new life or the new beauty. It simply rises up, as if by magic, after my work of removing and subtracting what it is that I did not want.

When I take the time to sit and think, I notice how so much of what is going on in my life, with Pebblespring Farm for example , is some kind of metaphor, as if though,(in ways I can not possibly understand) my life is “fractal”, where the part reflects the whole and the whole reflects the part. Let me explain what it is that I think I mean. I can see that in my life my task becomes to remove those elements that do not suite me, that are not beautiful to me. Because my life, this existence, what I experience as reality is a living dynamic organism. The forest has a life of its own. It creates new and beautiful things all the time, especially if I can just help it along be subtracting that which is not good and which is not pleasing. (if the forest were pristine, and not infested and invaded by unnaturally introduced alien species, I would of course not need to intervene at all!) The forest is not inanimate. I must do my part, but the forest responds by making making beautiful spaces and views and habitats. I did not make these beautiful things, but here they are, clear as the light of day. And so perhaps in my life, I must be less anxious about what new stuff I feel I should build for myself, but rather spend time focusing on what it is that I must subtract.

I have seen that there are people that have followed a path of “spiritual” discovery that took the dramatic step to remove all the things from their lives. In the ancient way of the Sharman or the Monk, they give up all of their possessions, their loved ones, everything that they may have valued. But is this not perhaps the equivalent of bringing bulldozers to Pebblespring farm and flattening everything down to barren sand and rock. (Incidentally this is exactly what my late neighbor, Richard Hall, did next-door about five years ago at his place and I can tell you the land is lifeless and dead to this day.)

That is not the path I have chosen for Pebblespring Farm and that is not the path I have chosen for my life. Rather than flattening everything I have chosen rather to specifically and surgically remove those parts that do not work for me. In my life and at Pebblespring Farm I have also not opted for an “anything goes” approach. I do not just let the unsightly alien invasive bush take over, I do not allow my life to be taken over by social media or booze or carbohydrates or people that abuse me me. Perhaps the way I have chosen is a “middle way”?

In spite of all of what I have already subtracted, I am acutely conscious that there is still a lot in my life that does not work for me. Commuting does not work for me. Mindless admin does not work for me. Inhuman bureaucracy does not work for me. And people who do not love me. People who do not respect me. People who I do not “vibe” with. (“Vibe” is actually quite a nice word to use in this instance. It hints a the mysterious and unfathomable vibration that is beauty and attraction.)

I have already done a lot in the last few years to make my life simpler. (COVID has been helpful in this regard actually!). There is still a lot of work for me going forward to remove these unwanted aspects from my life. I am conscious that it will take a lot of time. But I must work methodically and consistently, but not so hard a that I loose myself, and that I forget what I am trying to do in the first place. I must not allow myself to become so numb and so beaten that I cannot see the beauty. Because if I cant see the beauty, I will loose the energy I need to continue in the exercise of subtraction.

Perhaps I will report back on my progress here on this blog from time to time. Who knows??
2 years ago
I would be interested to hear how the Tilapia did in the reservoir - I see I did not reply at the time - In my experience - as much oxygen as possible - If they get cold over winter they become sluggish - they don't eat and don't grow - Cape Town winters can be cold for Tilapia without a greenhouse of sorts.
2 years ago

05 October 2021

Self and other

I have been spending evenings lately listening to Alan Watts. He has a whole bunch of stuff on YouTube, all recorded before he died in 1973, but lovingly uploaded more recently to the internet by followers from all over the world. He speaks so incredibly eloquently about matters of Zen and Tao an so much of what we says resonates very deeply with me.

Alan Watts – one of the great thinkers of our time.
What I am thinking of tonight is the phenomenon that Alan Watts speaks of in our tendency to for us to obsess about separating our “self” from the “other” and how actually if one looks closely enough, we begin to see how it is we are in fact a lot more integral with the reality around us than what we say we are. It seems to me that we make attempts all the time to play this game of separation: We see ourselves as separate from nature, even to the point where forget we are animals. We see ourselves and different and distinct from the thousands of gods we have embraced across many civilizations and cultures. We see our gods as the “other”.

We take this idea of “self” and “other” even further into the game we play within our own species where at a group level, we separate, our class, our religion, our nation as distinct from the other. We have often even made war along these lines. Killing and maiming ourselves in the process.

But is it not interesting to see that we are not happy to stop even there. Rather we insist even in our individual selves to create separation. We great a separation between our role as son and as father, as lover and as worker. We even wear separate “uniforms” at work and at home. We have a separate uniform for going to church and for playing golf, we even have pajamas as our “uniform” for sleeping. All of this in a desperate attempt to convince ourselves of the illusion that everything is separate. Well it is not! Everything is part of everything else. This is just the simple truth.

So in a small way perhaps, I see the move back to Pebblespring Farm and other lifestyle design steps I have taken, as an attempt to work against the drive toward separation. Because if there is no separation between work and home, perhaps it is a simpler task to get to a point where these is no separation between attraction and action or work and leisure. Where there is no separation between my health and the health of my business and there is no separation between the health of my business and the health of the people I employ and there is no separation between my prosperity and the prosperity of my clients.

There was a time when I was self conscious of over thinking things or sounding “too philosophical” But now as I am older. I am wiser. I realize that actually that is exactly the game I like to play. The game of “seeing the world in just one grain of sand” The game of treating what comes to me in my life every day as having some special, mystical meaning and significance just for me. Life’s just more fun this way! It makes me take everything that much more seriously!!!
2 years ago
1 October 2021

Back to the Land - Again

So, I have told you before about how what I thought was going to be a 3 week “camp” at the flatlet at my office for the Covid lockdown became a slightly extended affair. I very soon realized that I would not be able to get back to Pebblespring Farm any time soon. So, I made the very painful decision half way through last year to let out the cottage on the farm. I was relieved to find a tenant and was very happy to see that they were even able to do some small farming in the time they were there. If I had left the place unattended I have no doubt that it would have been vandalized and overrun by vagrants and poachers (in the same same way it was when I found it before buying the place). As we speak though, the tenant’s 12 month lease now comes to an end on the first of October and I am eagerly counting down the days until I can restart my adventure at Pebblespring Farm.

But some things have changed in my thinking over the period of Covid and the various categories of lockdown we have lived though. Firstly, I have really gotten quite used to the idea of living where I work. While I know that for many people across the world this has meant that they have been able to work from home, for me it came to mean that I was required to live at the office. But the point is that I quite like it that way. I quite like the idea of not having to commute. I quite like the idea of having only one internet connection, one armed response, one garden to rake the leaves up out of, one bathroom to keep clean, on fridge in which to keep the milk for my tea…… I think you follow my thinking here.

So as I write these words (and perhaps the reason I am writing these words) is that I am thinking through the detail of my next step. What I am sure of is that I will begin to get the cottage ready for me to move into it as soon as the tenants move out. What I am equally sure of is that I will then move back to the farm. What I am not sure of is, if, how and when I will get the office to follow me there. There are a number of things to think about:

1 – I will have to beef up security here at my office, if the dogs and I are no longer sleeping here. But this is of course a short term problem. While I can see that there may be a transition period where I am again sleeping at the farm and commuting to the office, the idea is to remove myself from the the Walmer property completely. (if I do remain involved with it, it will be as a developer and and investor, not as a tennant)

2 – My colleagues working for me, may not be too happy about commuting out to the farm every day, but then again its only 20 kms or so and it is against the flow of traffic. I do quite like the idea of physically working together in one space for a good portion of the day. While I have found that during hard lock down, we could work apart, I see that there are definitely some efficiencies that come from us being just a “shout over the shoulder” away from each other.(in fact I am even a little worried about making this post because – I have not yet sat down with and spoken through the detail of the move, mainly because I am not clear on the details)

3- What I have noticed is that the need for a boardroom for client meetings has drastically reduced. And also, if there were a need for a client meeting, it can easily be redirected to another venue (what I am saying is there would be no need to inconvenience clients by having them drive out all the way to Pebblespring farm for a meeting.)

4- It is also really quite handy to have an easy to reach address (like sixth avenue Walmer, where things can get dropped, either by Takealot or Checkers sixty60 or by clients, contractors of suppliers)

5- Then the other concern I have is the “what will they say?” concern. And I suppose that is one of those questions that lurks in the back of my mind and then once I expose it to scrutiny kind of evaporates. Who is the “they”? Why do I think that “they” will have anything to say at all? I do suppose there is something to say for PR – It would not be useful to me in business if the “talk” was that my moving out of Walmer was to be understood in some way as me closing down or scaling down my business.

6 – There are a whole lot of things that I like about living in Walmer – I like to be close to the gym. I like the place where I drink coffee in the mornings. I like the fact that I can get things delivered quite easily here.

So if those are the top 6 things that are bugging me. Let me think through here what options I have.

Firstly I think it is important to have some presence in town. I suppose I can achieve that by partnering with a friend in business – Perhaps put up some signage at their office gate – so if someone were to drop something for us they would see us. Maybe even a place where one of us could work for a short while, though, I think a coffee shop is perfect for that. Or perhaps we have no presence at all (in terms of signage) – We simply have a “drop box” an address in Walmer from which things can be collected or at which things can be dropped. The more I think of it, the more that I see that it is really not a very big issue.

There may be a need for a boardroom table from time to time, but these events will happen with such advance notice that theses meetings could very easily be held at the offices of a friend in business or at at coffee shop, or in extreme case at hired meeting spaces.

The problem of my colleagues commuting: The obvious answer there is to clear my vision in my head as best as possible and then to sit down with each of them individually and work out a solution. It may be that I need to increase a salary slightly to accommodate the increased monthly fuel bill. It may be that I would need to agree to greater “work from home time” I don’t know, but the meetings will guide me.

Then there is the matter of what is the PR message here? And I thing that can play out very well. I think the idea can be celebrated as a time appropriate response to the times. I can be celebrated as a leveraging of the technology that we not have to begin to live and work more where we choose and not where we are compelled to because of convention. Yes – I think I can get this message out there in a way that it is seen as positive and progressive.

But on a personal level. What do I do about my gym routine? What do I do about my coffee routine. I quite like the light an loose social interactions here. I don’t see myself driving all the way in the morning to the gym here. That would be counter-productive. I suppose the answer is, we will just have to see what new routine and rhythm grows up out of this change – and you know what – worst case scenario – move back to Walmer – for heavens sake – all of this is undoable!!
2 years ago
Lock down is time to do those projects we’ve been putting off for a while. I thought this rust old tank was worthless, until I found that it had a perfectly sound concrete lining. I cleaned up the years of junk that had collected inside and installed a DIY tank connector and valve - all in the course of a Saturday afternoon. And you know what!!! it works!!

4 years ago