Saturday, February 12, 2011


After seeing Once Upon a Time in Knoxville, a documentary about South Knoxvillian junk-visionary Rollo, my friends and I discussed some of the sweeping statements he made about the state of American culture and the future of the-lifestyles-to-which-we-have-become-accustomed. Rollo is an urban homesteader (on 7 acres in the city...which gives you insight into the kind of urban that we can enjoy in Knoxville) and like many farmers and homesteaders he is an inspired and inventive scavenger. At one point in the movie he makes a brief case arguing the need (and niche) for a scavenging class in the United States.

It is old news that we are incredible consumers with little appreciation for the bulk of disposable goods we enjoy. The planned obsolescence of our digital goods renders them almost as disposable as the plastic cutlery we pick up with our take out. Additionally, should you want to cling to your Android or iPhone well into its teens, there is no market for fixing or repairing the thing. Such repairs (or the cost of shipping your phone to the country in which it was made) would cost more than the object itself. Authors and designers William McDonough and Michael Braungart define this problem in their book Cradle to Cradle as a cradle-to-grave mentality. That is, we design products with the idea that they will be "born" out of raw materials, be consumed, and "die" in a landfill. A closed circuit with tremendous costs and wastes.

 This proclivity towards cradle-to-grave consumerism aside, we are a creative species and scavenging seems to run in our bones. Or in some of our bones. Anyone with grandparents or parents who lived through the 1930s will tell you that the habits of thrift, saving, and storing-away die hard, even when the scarcity that inspired those actions has passed. For myself, I have never had to worry very much about sourcing my food and shelter. Perhaps my inclination towards scavenging is more about greed and opportunism.

Whatever the motivation, I believe thrift is a virtue and waste a sin. Even if the thrift addresses a secondary ornamental gardening. Which brings me to the photo at right. These Lenten Roeses are growing behind an abandoned house in my neighborhood. It has been empty (and well squatted) for over six years and in the last year caught fire. In addition to the Lenten Roses, there was a well established border of pale pink peonies. I harvested less than half of the peony tubers two years ago and felt pretty shady about it....until the city came and bulldozed right through that same soil.

All this is to say, there is a fine line between scavenging and theft, but I'm calling these Lenten Roses fair game. In fact, I'm thinking they'll make a fine Valentine's Day gift for my grandmother (who recently had her own Lenten Roses mowed by some zealous landscapers). If you're feeling especially creative and scavenging-inspired, there's also a rotted out piano nearby. Send me a message, bring your truck, and I'll help you load it in.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post; I started writing about collards this morning, and the blog post made me realize that I hadn't written about the scavenged materials in our little garden--the drawers that we got from the abandoned school. I had to have felt badly about taking them at the beginning, as I was very secretive about it (and not just because I was afraid of getting caught by The Authorities). But the more I think about it, the more justification I see--it's less new materials that I have to buy, after all.