The Wizard of Short Glade Heights, Time Based Currency Pt. 1
I want to write about a friend not rant about the potential problematic aspects of time based currency. I fear I’ll do both before this is over.
The Wizard of Short Glade Heights is a man I met almost a decade ago. I had moved back to the central shenandoah valley just three years prior and was chasing down the permaculture dream with a passion. I had started attending a meeting of like minded people in town to exchange ideas about our sustainable future.
An older man approached me in the first meeting and asked the question “How green are you?” he had a twinkle in his eye and he framed the question with a hint of irony. It was as if I’d just been approached by William Burroughs if instead of being a lifelong junky, he spent his time chopping wood.
In that first conversation I discovered with great relief, he was a neighbor. It’s hard being an old school lefty and living in rural shenandoah valley. My values tend to skew more toward the environment and vegetables and holistic design then god, guns, and processed gas station snacks. While I’ve since softened on my clearly irrational fear of a hillbilly apocalypse and cultivated a serious appreciation of gas station snacks-(I've had my illusory iron will shattered on many occasions due to a powerful lust for fried pickles) at the time, it was a breath of fresh air to meet a like minded person.
Quickly, he became my homesteading mentor. I would spend my days off at his place stacking wood, cutting wood, splitting wood. On building projects around his site he taught me about first principles and simple design. That is where I first learned about proper tool selection and tool care.
And what a site it was. The Wizard is a formally trained architect who by the age of 43 found himself on 4 acres of land and debt free in a liveable house. At that time he made the decision to lower his stress by lowering his income needs and quitting his job. For the last twenty five years he has lived on 7 thousand dollars a year or 20 dollars a day. On a site that he has spent his time transforming into a magical place.
Almost nothing at his place is new. When I think about valuing what someone else would consider waste and creatively responding to change this man comes to mind. Essentially he has built an ewok village featuring a pair of old farm silos out of found objects. Years ago his scavenging habits got out of hand and he realized he needed storage and an ability to organize. He did the math and figured out that if he paid for an old building down the road from his site, he would save money by storing everything he needed instead of buying it new. He bought the building he now calls Zyx and refers to it jokingly as his personal Lowes and Walmart. In the building is a lumber section featuring 100 year old chestnut boards from an old barn, there is a hardware sections with nails pulled from pallets twenty years ago, plumbing, etc. you get the picture.
Back down the road at his homesite which he calls Z-ville he practices a french technique which he observed while on a trip to France back in the late 90’s as the french strategy of tax abatement. Essentially he deliberately leaves the outside of his estate run down but fine tunes every detail on the inside to create an incredible living environment. It’s remarkably efficient, it’s tiny before every damn hipster on the planet wanted a tiny house and it’s retrofitted and updated almost entirely from found materials.
He is quite simply the “greenest” example of a life I know. But it’s not my admiration for this man and his lifestyle that inspires me so much. Rather it’s our relationship. The mentorship I discovered long ago has evolved into an old school neighborliness and friendship that reduces both of our needs to earn more income.
Like man-buns, gluten-free, unschooling, tiny houses, swales, and whiteboy dreadlocks-time banks as a permaculture act of resistance is working it’s way across it’s own arc of trendiness. It’s an idea and theory with great intention behind it. To be clear, this is not a critique of those brilliant minds who have put their passion, brains, and energy behind time banks in their own community. This energy is well-meaning, and driven-I admire you all too. And honestly, I get it-until recently I used to sport white boy dreadlocks in a man bun while simultaneously designing a tiny house in my food forest full of swales. The arc of time and the potency of hindsight makes fools out of the best of us.
The wizard and I have an unspoken contract. We trade skills constantly. One example of this is he eats for free off of what I produce. During the season I supply him with all of the mixed vegetables that he can eat from my vegetable operation. Calorie wise and weight wise, it’s not a huge burden for the farm, but it’s quite meaningful to a man who spends 20 dollars a day to live. In the winter, I supply him with meat from the deer that I hunt and butcher. Often times, that deer comes from his land that he allows me to hunt. In exchange he helps me when I have reached a homestead problem beyond my present capacity. When my pressure tank goes bad-I call him, when something goes wrong in an engine, I call him, when I need consultation on re-graveling a washed out driveway-I call him. He even goes so far as splitting a little extra wood for me and I can always cut wood from his forest for burning in my wood stove.
Recently, We both upped the ante on this contract. He is designing the addition to our house-a skill that he is trained for in exchange for me writing an historical novel about the tiny little place in the community where we live. It’s a novel that he has conceptualized and wants to see written but doesn’t have the time or patience to put into it.
And that brings me to a central beef I have with time banks. I appreciate the attempt at creating a currency that evens out the playing field where everyone is valued equally. And I appreciate subverting the magic symbolism of the dollar with a slightly less abstract concept as one hour. However, I can't get past the feeling that In the end it’s still magic and it’s still currency and more importantly, it seems to recreate our own old school neighborliness by institutionalizing service. And there's the rub. What time banks seem to do is layer structured togetherness on top of a void and loss of intimacy.
I am suspicious that the answer to our current social and economic alienation is structured time banks where we log our social capital. What if the answer to these problems are less fancy, less trendy, but more meaningful. What if we just need to value and improve our intimacy skills?
In the age of bullshit “find your tribe” marketing and goofy follow your bliss advice spilling off the lips of every get rich quick hippy life coach on the internet, what if we just need a couple of friends. Commit to them-build that relationship-earn their trust and then count on them and make damn sure they can count on you. When I think of slow and small solutions, this strikes me as a meaningful way to build a community. One neighbor at a time.
The Wizard has been good to me and I feel extremely motivated to be good to him. We aren’t keeping score. I have a couple of more people I’m working on building this same relationship and it takes time. Shit has to be worked out. But it works.
So sure, keep fighting for that local time bank-they have value-I believe this. Just remember, as you're stacking hours take the opportunity to truly connect. When time is currency, our relationship to time is changed. And this I fear is how intimacy is subverted. I'll close with a quote from one of my counseling mentors. "Act like you got five minutes, and it's going to take all day. Act like you got all day, and often it takes five minutes."
Daniel Firth Griffith