Tuesday, December 30, 2008

King Corn

Laura and I just watched a documentary, “King Corn,” which I highly recommend. To make this movie, two young men moved to Iowa temporarily, grew an acre of corn (or more accurately, had an acre of corn grown for them), and attempted to follow their crop as it made its way through the industrial agriculture pipeline, interviewing dozens of farmers, researchers, and other experts along the way. Their experiences reveal a lot about the way Empire America works.

The present situation with corn can be traced back to Earl Butz, who was Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture. Previous agricultural policy paid farmers not to grow crops, in order to keep commodity prices higher than they would have been otherwise. Under Butz and subsequent administrations, farmers were subsidized to grow corn, soybeans, and other crops. This kept commodity prices low, and maximized food production. (Plentiful, cheap food was designed to keep the rabble happy and complacent, by the way.) What resulted was a “race to the bottom” – farms got bigger, since only the largest operators could make a profit. And the quality of the corn itself decreased, since it was bred for one thing only – maximum yield per acre.

Traditionally, 40 bushels of corn per acre was considered a good harvest. These days, using genetically engineered corn and heavy use of synthetic fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, yields can be as high as 200 bushels per acre. But modern corn has a much lower protein content than earlier varieties, now consisting of mostly starch. In fact, modern corn is nothing more than an industrial raw material, to be converted, in huge factories, into animal feed and the now-ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup. (The movie was made just before the ethanol boom, which now absorbs much of the corn crop.)

Agricultural policy has caused the demise of the family farm. Only the largest farms can afford the monster tractors and harvesters required to prepare the soil, plant the seed, apply the necessary chemicals, and harvest the crop. Every step in the process is mechanized, and the tractors are far larger than anything we will ever see in this part of New Mexico. As one Iowa farmer said, “We prefer large fields so we don’t have to turn around as often.” Our relatively small, irrigated New Mexico fields don’t lend themselves to agriculture on the Iowa scale.

Of course, industrial agriculture in late-empire America is predicated on unlimited, cheap energy. Oil prices are down once again -- revealing the speculative nature of the oil pricing system -- but shortages will inevitably occur, and will get worse over time. You can bank on this. Whoops, there will be no more banks, sorry.

The unprecedented corn crops of recent years (there are literal mountains of corn piled next to the overwhelmed storage silos which are filled to capacity) has resulted in the ethanol scam. Briefly: ethanol requires more energy to produce than you get at the end of the process, duh! But all this corn has to be used for something.

One of these “somethings” is high fructose corn syrup, which is added to just about everything these days, and is a prime culprit behind our obesity epidemic. In the words of one expert interviewed in the film, not only does high fructose corn syrup have no food value, it disorders the metabolism. What a wonderfully American food it is!

Another “something” is the modern “grain fed beef” paradigm in which the cattle are fed a diet consisting of mostly corn. Corn is so cheap, feedlots use it to the exclusion of almost all other feeds. Unfortunately, cattle evolved to eat mostly grass, and a high corn diet gives them stomach ulcers. In typically American fashion, researchers are busily at work solving the symptom – finding medications to keep the ulcers under control long enough for the “animal unit” to reach optimal slaughtering weight. The meat from such animals has such a high fat content, it bears little relationship to what traditionally used to be called “beef.” What we now have is “fat disguised as a beef-like substance.”

The movie didn’t mention the fact that, thanks to industrial agriculture, our remaining topsoil is quickly flowing down the Mississippi River, and that all those excess agricultural chemicals in the runoff water are contributing a massive “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Talk about way beyond fucked up. Everybody the two young men interviewed said the same thing: “I don’t necessarily agree with the way modern agriculture is practiced, but I’ve got to make a living in the world as it is.” And so we stumble, step by step, into oblivion.

Empire America deserves to crash, and crash hard. The coming “Greatest Depression” will be beyond anything we have every dreamed of. Are you ready, dear reader? Are you making any preparations whatsoever? I didn’t think so! Why is this, exactly? Keep your internet channel tuned right here for further developments. Perhaps we will get to the bottom of all this before too much longer.

Monday, December 29, 2008

There's Always Enough Sorrow To Go Around

Big Hug
by Laura

G said, “Come on, I want to show you a surprise.” It was the view from the top of the platform of the Ark—8 feet up in the pasture overlooking the river and the mountains across the river. It is the floor of the Ark itself and I had not yet been up there to see this view. I had just completed my initial wow response to the view when I looked down at the side of the house by the steps leading down from the road. There, looking up at us, stood a friend of ours who we’ve known for at least 15 years, but who had moved several years ago to Silver City. We see Theresa every so often when she comes to Cruces to see her Mama who is in a nursing home here. The last time we had seen her was late last winter.

Our history with Theresa is fun—she was an eager and enthusiastic participant in our full-moon drumming/dancing ceremonies that we had every month in our pasture. Theresa was almost always up for anything involving dancing, drumming, chanting, meditating or prayer work. She is probably the best dancer I have ever seen other than maybe professionals. Any and every kind of dance but especially free form ecstatic dance which she “led” every Saturday at a local church for years. We have sorely missed her dancing spirit when she moved.

Theresa is a magical person—living outside the mainstream boundaries and rules and benefits. She has always had a vision of creating a healing center of some sort. At one time I figured out that she IS the healing center.

Anyway there she was and G invited her to climb the ladder up to our Ark which she unhesitatingly did. We told a brief explanation of what this weird structure was that we were now standing on. Then she said her Mama had died three days before and she had just found out and had come to see about things. It all happened without much thought for the next hour. G opened his arms and Theresa moved into them and I folded myself around her back with my arms around both of them and my hands covering hers on G’s back. For some time we felt her wracking grief and loss rising from her groin and solar plexus and shaking her up through her chest, throat and mouth. The reverberations found their match-mates in my body from the death of my own dear mother almost 6 years previous to the day. The reverberations also found like company in G’s body from the death of his precious mother 3 years previous. We stood like orphan monkeys feeling the agony of abandonment by the cells we were originally more intimate with than we could understand. It is to be felt—the death of mother, and feel it we three did.

At one point we moved into a triangle hug, Theresa and I resting our heads against G’s shoulders and chest and his head dropped down on the top of ours. I could feel all 6 of our legs holding us all up and our bodies so close we shared one grief, one universal loss. We, as a unit became as a divining rod on the top of the platform. The electric ecstatic dove of the peaceful holy spirit entered our bodies as our weeping slowed. We began to sigh and moan and it became chanting of ancient sounds, guttural and piercing expressions from the life of our cells. All three voices blending to a universal sound of the inside of a sea shell or a womb. We did not know what was on the “other side” of the shell/womb, but we were really aware of “something” being there. Perhaps like sensing our mothers “there” when we were in the womb. We were rocked and rocking in the arms of The Mother.

Curiously, we know how long this all took before we had to release each other from the exhaustion of tears and cramped overextended muscles. My cell phone alarm is set to play Amadeus the Final Curtain every day at noon and it will automatically snooze itself for 5 minutes for an entire hour unless I shut it off. We could all hear it, like the heavenly hosts, but I couldn’t reach it in my pants pocket without breaking the energy flow of our lightening rod hug. So it finally turned itself off at 1:00, just when we first considered easing off on hugging and beginning to communicate verbally.

Theresa ended up sharing a meal with us and crashing on our couch for the night. I hope Theresa will not mind my telling this story. She is such a dear friend and her story of her and her Mama is a deeply moving one. I hope one day she will share her profound insights with others. G and I feel richly blessed to know Theresa.


Our Grief Event
by Gordon

I’ve never known a person to say, “I haven’t experienced enough sorrow; please give me more.” Enough is always plenty. I’ve experienced my share of sorrow, but it has always seemed to me that Theresa has received a double helping. She’s a direct descendant of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, in which over a million Armenians were slaughtered, and this has set a powerful tone for her life.

Theresa is the only world-class dancer I know personally besides Laura. She used to offer ecstatic dancing (based on Gabrielle Roth’s teaching) once a week in Las Cruces, and Laura and I were her most faithful participants. We do like to dance. In ecstatic dancing you move as you are inwardly led, so there are no wrong moves. Unlimited spontaneity as always appealed to me, so I always enjoyed my dancing sessions with Laura and Theresa.

Profound sorrow and dancing ecstasy are a powerful combination, like baking soda and vinegar, or gasoline and fire. At any rate I have always had an interesting relationship with Theresa to say the least.

We shared a profound grief event on Friday, Dec. 19. I had just invited Laura onto the just-built floor of our new Ark so that she could experience the view from eight feet off the ground, when we heard somebody calling to us from the bottom of the steps about twenty feet away. Turns out it was Theresa, whom we hadn’t seen for the better part of a year.

“Come on up!” I invited, so she climbed the ladder and joined us on the Ark. I explained the function of the Ark to her, and we admired the view, and then she got to her big news: her mother had just died. This was not unexpected: her mother had been languishing in a nursing home for several years, and there was only one possible outcome.

Turns out Mama (accent on the second syllable) had died on Tuesday, Dec. 16, which was Laura and my 20th wedding anniversary. This seemed like quite a coincidence, but then again, isn’t everything, come to think about it? Laura and I made the usual verbal expressions of sympathy, and I mentioned the similarity of our two mothers spending several years in nursing homes before they died. Sometimes death takes too long, or so it seemed to me in my mother’s case. When it finally happens, “It’s a mixture of grief and relief,” I said.

That opened the floodgates. Theresa started crying, so I started hugging her. Laura started hugging her from behind, since I already occupied the front side.

It has always seemed to me, dealing with the mainstream American culture I grew up in, that people often don’t know how to just shut up and let things be. It seems like, when grief is concerned, people sometimes try to get the crying over with as soon as possible, talking all the while. In much the same way, Americans tend to talk while praying, presuming to tell God what to do, when in fact silence is a more appropriate approach.

Since I already knew all this, I just held Theresa and let the crying happen. There’s nothing to say; the value of the crying is the crying itself. That’s how humans grieve: we cry. If we cry enough, eventually we don’t have to cry anymore. So let’s get started right now.

I remember standing front-to-front, ear-to-ear, with my left arm around her and my right hand cupping the back of her head, trying to enfold her as much as possible, while Laura stood behind Theresa with her arms wrapped around us both. I think ecstatic dancing is great practice in going all-out, because Theresa is one powerful crier. She blasted electric incandescent tidal waves of grief right through me. I heard Laura crying. I didn’t feel like I was crying, but I noticed tears streaming down my cheeks. Upon thinking about it later, I concluded that I wasn’t “crying” in the usual sense (from energy coming from within), but “being cried” by Theresa’s energy flowing through me. Surely this is what empathy is all about. I was an open channel for Theresa’s crying energy, being pressed right up against her and all, so it was only natural that her crying energy would make me cry as it passed through me.

We stood like this for perhaps 20 minutes, until Theresa’s crying subsided and Laura moved around so that we were standing in a triangle, arms around each other, facing each other, heads pressed together. Nobody wanted to stop. We were sharing a deep communion.

All this started at noon, when Laura’s cell phone timer is set to play music (one of her “spiritual reminders”), and it activated automatically every five minutes because she couldn’t get to it in her pocket to turn it off. So every five minutes we had a little burst of “angel music.”

We were quite thoroughly bonded by this time, any internal resistance having been thoroughly blasted by the powerful surge of crying energy we had all experienced. We shared an extended interval of great tenderness. We talked from time to time; I remember us talking about being triplets sharing the same womb, which seemed like a delightfully accurate concept. Then Theresa started OMing so we OMed along with her... sometimes in harmony, sometimes not. This went on for quite a while. But we spent most of the time just being silent together, sharing the closeness.

Eventually our muscles started to complain about standing in one position for so long, but we didn’t want to stop. But like all things, the moment passed in due time. Laura was finally able to turn off the cell phone alarm, and it turned out that our grief event had lasted for over an hour. Then we stretched, climbed down the ladder, and entered our next moment.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Cyclists Go Aquatic

Back when morning first turned to dawn, back towards the beginning of our recollection, whale spouts sparkled and glistened in the dawn’s early light like rainbow dewdrop geysers. It’s true, too – each whale geyser had a misty rainbow living in it, a rainbow that gave off all sorts of colors, transmuting and returning the gift of sunlight.

The whales make quite a spectacle as they huff and chuff their way up the Rio Grande, where we now find them, shortly after sunrise, north of the Picacho Bridge west of Las Cruces, New Mexico, heading towards Radium Springs and points beyond.

Our two cyclists, having been alerted by news reports to the impending arrival of the whales, decided to bike down to the river and greet their cetacean friends. It had been a long time since there had been whales in New Mexico, and the cyclists wished to provide a proper welcome.

The cyclists had already seen “Star Trek IV,” so they knew all about mind-melding with whales. The second cyclist in particular knew that it is possible to mind-meld at a distance. No need to get one’s feet wet!

The cyclists had already mind-melded with the Loch Ness Monsters, but let’s save this juicy bit of information until later in the narrative, shall we? Let’s just say that the cyclists had considerable mind-melding power. In fact, they had been practicing mind-melding for years. First they melded with each other, and then they moved on to family pets, livestock, and wild animals of all kinds, including once a mountain lion. But they had never mind-melded with whales, and they didn’t want to miss this unique opportunity to emulate Spock in one of their favorite movies.

The cyclists pulled up at the edge of the river, hopped off their bikes, and turned their minds to "scan" mode. They quickly made contact with the whales, and started mind-melding immediately. It was easy. The conversation went basically like this, insofar as telepathy can be semi-accurately translated into words:

Cyclists: Hiya, whales! On behalf of ourselves and all the other wildlife of this region, we’d like to welcome you to the Land of Enchantment!

Whales: Greetings, humans! We can tell by your good vibrations that you mean us no harm. May we all live long and prosper! How far is Elephant Butte Lake?

Cyclists: About 100 miles as the river turns.

Whales: Are Nessie and Willy doing well?

Cyclists: How did you find out about Nessie and Willy?

Whales: We have friends and fins in high and low places. Are Nessie and Willy doing well?

Cyclists: Very well! They hatched out 16 hatchlings this year!

Whales: Very good! We look forward to seeing them! Can you transport us over the dam?

Cyclists: There are two dams: Caballo Dam and Elephant Butte Dam. How did you get over Mesilla Dam, anyhow?

Whales: We jumped. But the two other dams are too high. Can you transport us over these dams?

Cyclists: With flatbed trucks, or what?

Whales: Whatever is necessary.

Cyclists: Why do you want to go to Elephant Butte Lake?

Whales: We have an urgent message for Nessie and Willie from the Whale Council.

At this point the writer must turn to his readers in disbelief and say: “What is this shit? Whale Council? Nessie and Willy? This is turning into a grade B or C sci-fi movie! Talking whales? What’s next? Bigfoot?”

Yes, undoubtedly... “The Cyclists Camp Out with Bigfoot.” In this tale, the cyclists trek deep into the gloomy dark forest of the High Cascades, and use their mind-meld powers to establish contact with our closest living relatives, the Bigfeet, who are intelligent enough to have successfully avoided contact with humans up till now. But the cyclists, being somewhat more than human (being mind melders and all), are deemed safe by the Bigfeet, who welcome them into the Bigfoot Clan. Seriously, is this any more far-fetched than the cyclists transporting the Loch Ness Monsters to Elephant Butte Lake in a giant pressurized tank... which they’ve already done, by the way? Of course not! Let’s get real here! With the cyclists, all things are possible!

As the mind-meld with the whales continued, the full story emerged. There were several good reasons why the whales were swimming majestically up the Rio Grande at that very moment. For one thing, thanks to the spectacularly heavy snowfall in the southern Colorado mountains the previous winter, the Rio Grande was running bank full from Colorado clear to the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in generations, making whale travel possible the full length of the river. The whales, as previously mentioned, wanted to carry a message from the Whale Council to the Loch Ness Monsters, Nessie and Willy, who had recently been transplanted by the cyclists from Loch Ness in Scotland into Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico, U.S. of A. So the Whale Council decided that this would be the perfect time to visit their old reptilian friends, swap stories of ancient seas, and keep the genealogies up-to-date. The ultimate whale trifecta, in other words.

We must now refer back to our previous cyclist story, entitled “The Cyclists Build a Nuke.” If you have had the opportunity to read this delightful tale of human inventiveness and prosperity, you will recall that the cyclists ended up saving over 37 million dollars after taxes from their nuclear power plant before it became permanently clogged with nuclear wastes. The story ended with the enigmatic words, “Then they moved onto their new solar voltaic ‘energy farm,’ but that’s a whole other story.” Here’s the rest of the story: during the next five years, they prospered greatly. They did unbelievably well. Every investment they made paid off big time. They literally couldn’t lose, so they didn’t. Even though they were now “retired,” the cyclists were now clearing a cool 100 million dollars a year. So they had plenty of options.

When the cyclists decided, on a lark, to communicate with the Loch Ness Monster (everybody thought there was only one), money was no problem. Their motto was: spend whatever it takes to do the job right. Their expedition was funded to the max. They brought special sonar devices and a huge pressurized tank to haul the Monster home with them (if he or she wanted to go, that is), and a giant cargo plane to fly the whole kit and kaboodle across the world. But their ace in the hole was their mind-meld power. They hadn’t mind-melded with anything bigger than a mountain lion up to that point, but they were confident of their powers, and were feeling ambitious. Why not, they reasoned, attempt melding with so-called “mythical” creatures of all kinds: Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, extraterrestrials, and the Loch Ness Monster? Why not, indeed!

Since the cyclists literally couldn’t lose, they hit paydirt on their very first try. Not only was their Loch Ness Expedition their first attempt at contacting a “mythical” creature, their first attempt at mind-melding on the very first day of their expedition brought forth a sluggish exclamation of sharp surprise from one very startled Loch Ness Monster! The cyclists quickly established a basis of communication with the friendly reptilian. Before long, its mate joined in the conversation. There were, as it turned out, two Loch Ness Monsters -- a male and a female, as luck would have it -- named Nessie and Willy. As far as they knew, they were the last of their kind. They were thousands of years old, being kept in a state of suspended animation for most of each year by low water temperatures. Only during the brief summer months did the Loch waters warm up enough to permit a measure of activity. It was, however, too cold to breed. They felt kind of stuck in a nowhere place, living a nowhere life... kind of like living in America, actually.

But America is where Nessie and Willy would be going, if they wanted to leave Loch Ness. The cyclists painted a vivid mind-meld picture of the delights awaiting the Monsters in Elephant Butte Lake: warm waters, fat bass, sharp rocks for scratching their backs, beautiful blue skies, gorgeous sunsets – a perfect place to raise the family they had been postponing all these millennia. How could Nessie and Willy refuse?

So they eagerly gallumphed into the special pressurized tank that the cyclists had thoughtfully brought with them, and rode across the Atlantic on the cyclists’ special cargo plane, happily eating salmon and basking in the warm infrared rays of the tank’s special heat lamp energy distribution module.

As soon as Nessie and Willy agreed to move to New Mexico, the cyclists activated their satellite insta-link and got to work converting Elephant Butte Lake into a Loch Ness Monster preserve. To do this, it was necessary to change the designation of the lake from a State Park into a special new category. To do this, it was necessary to – and let’s be delicate here – “influence” numerous New Mexican officials, from the Governor all the way down to the Sierra County Commission. In some cases, a generous campaign contribution did the trick. Or maybe a nice new doublewide trailer, or a pickup truck. It all depended on the individual. Fortunately, the cyclists had already “influenced” key members of the State Legislature, the New Mexico Parks Department, the Fish and Game Commission, the editor of the Albuquerque Journal, and dozens of other key officials. After all was said and done, the cyclists essentially took over the entire State of New Mexico at a cost of less than four million dollars! It’s amazing how cheap these officials really are.

Basically, the fishermen, waterskiers, and recreationists were kicked out of the lake. From now on, it was to be used only by Nessie, Willy, and their hoped-to-be progeny. The cyclists bought hundreds of acres overlooking the lake at strategic vantage points, to serve the needs of the anticipated tourist trade. They also started work on a resort hotel and a chain of shiny new convenience stores. Once the story hit the front page of the National Enquirer, Elephant Butte Lake would become a global tourist destination on a level with the Grand Canyon and Graceland Mansion. The cyclists intended to turn the sleepy little tourist town of Elephant Butte, NM into a quality venue worthy of the Loch Ness Monsters’ noble lineage.

They managed to land at the El Paso International Airport without drawing attention to themselves, but they knew that their secret would quickly be exposed. The Elephant Butte Lake bass fisherman, in particular, were a feisty bunch, and were already protesting being kicked out of their favorite lake. As soon as people started noticing the familiar reptilian heads poking out of the water, the media would go crazy. The Monsters would need protection. So establishing a security corridor around the entire lake was the highest priority. The cyclists were nothing if not thorough.

The rest of the story is entirely predictable: huge crowds, armed guards, restricted airspace, photo-ops with the Governor, interviews with the cyclists, interviews with Nessie and Willy. A hidden nest back in the cattails; the first sightings of the hatchlings; “name the hatchling” contests. And right in the midst of all this hullabaloo, here come the whales, with an urgent message from the Whale Council. What could this message possibly be? If I were them, I’d want to talk about taking over the planet, wouldn’t you?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Two Fer Roo

I wanted to tell you about how Shela and I got a double jolt of solstice energy the other day. I already told about G & I going up to the Solstice Spot for sunrise. What I didn’t actually put down in words but what is a given to anyone who knows me or has a certain kind of dog is that Shela Roo went with us too. Of course she also went to the Rock Home and any other place G or I ever told a story about Shela was automatically there too. She is that certain kind of dog. Shela (or Roo or Rooey or Little Roo or Shelaseraptor) is just turned eight. She has lived with us since she and my son Neil met each others gaze across a crawling mob of sibling puppies all begging for the swell eleven year old boy to please pick me. Shela was the tiniest round Being sitting still alert and quiet in peaceful contemplation of the boy she knew already belonged to her soul. Her all-knowing ebony eyes shot their arrows into Neil’s open heart and living history was witnessed.

Shela is a blue heeler, also known as an Australian Cattle dog. Neil was a Crocodile Dundee fan at the time. That’s how her name—Shela Roo—came to be—a shela is a girl or a girl kangaroo in Australian. Our Shela is a Shela Roo instead of a kangaroo. It has been a great name for a great dog. Roo is a smallish heeler with dainty hair and features compared to many of the breed who are larger and shaggier. Roo has a magical silky soft forehead with a white crystal star on her 3rd eye. She is the typical colors of a blue heeler—greyish brown spots blended into black background with red liver spotted legs and sticky-up ears like G likes. Shela also has a totally black saddle spot on her flank. Some heelers get their tails docked. A few strains of the breed are apparently attempting to evolve the tail to the impossibly cute zone. This is the case with Shela Roo who has a naturally occurring tail consisting of one vertebrae nubbin—like the end joint of your pinkie. The guy who had the puppies showed us Mama and Papa Heeler whose tails are also one-notchers. Doc said no one could dock a tail that short. So there it is—Rooey is a natural stumpie! It is a delight to see it chattering happily away at the end of herself when she greets a friend—of which she has never met anyone who is not.

Heelers are shaped like a brick with four dowel rods poking straight down. Like a clay dog made by a 2nd grader. Can’t think why I’d want any other dog. Shela is a post-it note from God. I look up and there she is gazing at me with unconditional love and presence. She attempts to be wherever I am at all times. This is since her boy moved out two years ago and couldn’t take her with him even though he tried. He has not been able to sleep well without Shela and The Pearl of Great Price sleeping on top of him. He was soul-yanked away from his sleep-support system and has had to adapt. Before that Shela was pretty much wallpapered unto Neil like an extra skin. (Except when he was making loud banging noises which she did not like).

Anyway she is me now and I am her. She is perpetually in contact with my soul and will meditate with me anytimeanyplace. Shela is always in contact with my feelings—if I experience a deep sad or a flash of rage or a burst of joy—there is Shela with her silky head gently present at my face. One of everyone’s favorite things about her is that she is a howler. Someone starts to howl and it gets Shela barking which soon becomes a head tipped back coyote soul opening chanting howl. Makes you go to some otherwhere and when with her and the ancient ancestors of Australians communication with the heavens. Gives you soul vibrating waves of harmony, peace and rapture to howl with the Roo. Everyone who knows her does it. Presses your re-start button.

Shela is also a talker. When a friend comes along she quivers all over and circles her sausage body (maggot is what G calls it), rolls her tongue around in her mouth, saying LLLLRrrrRowRowRowwwwwowwowow. Definitely words—“I am glad to see you my friend let’s play!”

So Shela’s a great dog and she goes everywhere I go and she was there at the Solstice Spot the other morning. Then that evening my neighbor Katia called to say let’s go up to the Solstice Spot for sunset even though it was past sunset there was light in the sky. So we went and watched the colors fade and the stars come forth and we shared spiritual pointings that we liked and hugged and laughed each other into winter and happy new year and Shela Roo was there watching and loving us all. A two fer Roo.

Words and photo by Laura Solberg.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Vicious Wind

This has been the windiest winter I can ever remember. The Northern Plains are famous for their blizzards with their heavy snows and howling winds, and the West Coast is subject to hurricane-force winds from storms blowing off the Pacific, but here in southern New Mexico, winter tends to be pretty mellow. Spring is the windy season.

But not this year. Today, they are predicting 60 mph gusts, and this is the third vicious wind storm this winter so far.

I’m really noticing the weather this winter, even more than usual, because I’m out in it all the time, building our Ark. The platform is essentially done – the floor joists are in, the plywood floor is nailed onto the joists, and yesterday I finished the siding so the whole thing is boxed in. Now I can start building the actual room.

Since they’re predicting rain, I wanted a temporary waterproof membrane to protect the plywood, so I had Laura buy another large plastic tarp when she went into town yesterday. She got home just as it was getting dark, so we went out and laid down the new tarp, holding it down with bricks and pieces of lumber, and then laid down the old tarp overlapping onto the new tarp. We had the floor all covered except for a small section I planned on getting to this morning.

I planned on laying down one last piece of plastic, and carrying a massive amount of bricks, boards, pieces of firewood, and anything heavy up the ladder and onto the platform to hold the tarps and plastic down.

The weather, as one might expect, had other plans.

“Is that the wind I hear? I asked Laura when I woke up in the early morning darkness.

But I already knew the answer, and I already knew what I would find: tarps flapping noisily in the wind. We climbed up to the top of the platform in the half-darkness before dawn and did what we could, but I quickly concluded that trying to fix the tarps was futile. So we dragged everything to the edge of the platform and gave it the old heave-ho.

Fortunately they’re only predicting a 10% chance of rain this time. Rain won’t ruin the floor, but I would really like to prevent that surface layer from getting wet. So our new plan is to paint the floor, to give it some measure of protection. This means more work and more expense, but hey, we wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t already troupers.

I’m blaming global warming for all this, of course. I blame global warming for everything, and rightly so. The more energy you pump into a weather system, the more extreme it becomes. Thanks to global warming, all the vicissitudes of nature – droughts, floods, hurricanes, ice storms, blizzards, wind, hail, tornadoes – will be more extreme than anything we’ve ever been used to.

I like to speculate about what will happen once the Arctic icecap melts. At least at first, the Arctic Ocean will continue to freeze over every winter, but in early winter there should be a very interesting interplay of energy dynamics between the cold winter air and the relatively warm ocean... a dynamic that wouldn’t have happened as long as the water was covered by a cold layer of ice. So we shall surely see.

Usually my “inner idiot” is my primary interface mode, and for this I’m grateful. I usually enjoy whatever I’m doing, and get wrapped up in whatever today’s project is. I’m all too aware of what’s happening out there in the world, but it doesn’t bother me as much as it would if my inner idiot didn’t provide a buffer. But occasionally my defenses fail and I get really discouraged. The most recent incident involved my reaction to, of all things, a number.

Recently the enviros have been hyping a number: 350. This means a CO2 concentration of 350 parts per million. We’re already at 380, and rising fast. They say we need to get back down to 350 ASAP if we’re to have any chance whatsoever. Fat chance, I say.

Anyway, they recently had a conference of climate scientists in England, and the scuttlebutt there said that if we go all-out, maybe we can stabilize the CO2 concentration at 550 ppm. Otherwise, 650. The scientists were pretty freaked out by the implications of this.

I was too, because I realized they were talking about a mere temperature increase (which would be plenty bad enough), without factoring in the runaway greenhouse effect which will be caused by all the gigatons of methane released by the melting permafrost and from the seabed of the Arctic Ocean. When the stark inevitability of our upcoming new reality gets through my idiot armor and starts affecting me emotionally, it can quickly become unbearable.

So that’s where I was at last Friday, when a friend arrived at our home, bearing a heavy burden of grief. But that’s fodder for a whole other post.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Dead Grasshopper

There was a day Father Sun lifted his gaze unto the designated workload here in Soarbird Sanctuary Radium Springs and decided G and I would visit the Rock Home. Workload means nothing to FS. So off we went.

The Rock Home is way back down the Marble Mine Road named for the marble Quarry many miles back in. Some folks call it other things but G has lived right here for a spell and they don’t so his name is the one that stuck for us. The Marble Mine Road is G’s back yard, spiritual homeland, thousands of square miles of land the BLM thinks it owns. The non-reality of THINKING to own desert sand populated by scrubby mesquite, creosote, ocotillo, barrel cactus tucked in under like secret easter eggs is that no agency behaving itself ought to act as if it could own all that majesty and life and why would they want to when it is there to befuddle the thinker. But they do. Act like they own it—signing over grazing rights to cattle men who let loose their scrawny cows to manage somehow on grazing back the side oats grama and bluestem grasses that are growing a little bit. The cows make a benevolent and passive presence on the Marble Mine Road.

Jack rabbits, night hawks, millipedes, snakes, walking sticks and lizards are other friends. Many evenings and nights G and I hear the coyotes telling their fables to the night sky with the oversight of the hoot owl and bats.

But this time it was morning daylight and mostly the inhabitants were doing other things somewhere else. We didn't see much of anyone when we went up. We knew they were there as we drove the several miles up the MM Road to the Rock Home turnoff which is on the top long flat stretch with the majestic vistas. Pull over and park—no other traffic—rare to see another vehicle for days up there. Walked down the scabbily roadish piece of mountain to the arroyo leading into the Rock Home I had my Coolpix out and snapping the whole time because I love all my pictures. Not that they are professional pictures but they are mine and I seem to bond with them in some way that pleases me.

Scrunch scrunch we scrunched in the loose sand and then there she was! She was a beauty—blue and green and thick and perfectly shaped and abandoned—dead. A hefty substantial empty grasshopper body that must have been a real terror to whatever she ate when she was alive because she had some girth to her. No information about what terminated her—she just sat there like it was all part of the scheme of things, like an old 57 Chevy truck with its engine long blown out sitting in the weeds of the side yard of a country house where it is never in the way but always visible. Makes you think of what stories there are that will never be told and probably don’t need to be. But this old 57 grasshopper wreck has a short story written about her and has some good Coolpix taken of her expired self. I bet she becomes famous as the unknown grasshopper of that well-loved and interesting blog.

Next time maybe I’ll tell you about the lichen and the Rock Home and Gord with the gourds. Let me know what you think.

Words and photo by Laura Solberg

Sunday, December 21, 2008

This is the Whey I Think it Was

Twenty-one years ago, give or take a few seasons, before the busy times, G was a stallion out pawing and sniffing and wandering his terrain. He gut-searched and found a perfect high spot in the mountains he loved the best. This spot has a complete all the way around view of the surrounding creosote/mesquite/snake weed covered mountains and hills of his home. The river is down there like a curvy snake pausing on the stones. G collected piles of rocks-cairns-and cut willow or salt cedar poles to be mounted pointing skyward in the cairns. One big one in the middle of the top of the flat space with the total view. Three poles to the east of the middle and three poles to the west. He started one time before I connected with him going up there before dawn and waiting for the rising sun on the first day of summer or fall—the solstice (his b’day truth be told), or the autumnal equinox. As the sun rose he planted a pole in a rock pile so the pole in the middle lined up with the outer one and the rising sun. Over the years and seasons he and I and sometimes others assembled all six properly aligned outer poles to make a full circle marking Life on Earth. Sunrises sunsets came and went marked by our funfolding destinies. This morning was our 21st winter solstice remembrance together.

Words and photo by Laura Solberg

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Cyclists Build a “Nuke”

Once upon a time, our two cyclists needed some money. So they decided to build a nuclear power plant in their back yard and sell the electricity to El Paso Electric. After all, the cyclists figured, the electric company had built its own Palo Verde nuclear power plant, so what an inspiration it would be for them to get a nuclear “shot in the arm” courtesy of Involved Citizen Involvement!

(At this point in the narrative, you might well be wondering how a couple of cyclists could possibly expect to build a nuclear power plant? The answer is simple: In addition to having seen “The China Syndrome,” the first cyclist’s mind was so brilliant that it could figure out anything in this whole wide universe, as long as it set its mind to it (an example of “meta-mind”—when even minds have minds), and the second cyclist, being a more outgoing type, was plugged into many diverse and far-ranging networks which could be tapped for knowledge and expertise.)

So the second cyclist tapped and plugged while the first cyclist thought and schemed, and soon they had the plans for their very own “nuke” scribbled in the margins of a copy of “Grassroots Press.”

Not ones to let such plans grow dust, the cyclists quickly got down to the nitty-gritty of construction, and, with the aid of the adoberos and nuclear engineers in their network, they caused a little adobe nuke to arise from the mesquite and snakeweed of the southern New Mexico desert.

When their new nuke was ready for fission, the cyclists invited their friends over for an “on line” ceremony. A crowd gathered around the electric meter as the cyclists slowly withdrew the control rods and started feeding electricity into the El Paso Electric lines. A cheer came from the crowd when the meter first began to turn. Then came an awed hush as the meter spun into a blur, and a collective gasp as smoke and sparks began to pour from the wires. When the meter began to melt, the circuit breaker in the main transformer blew, causing the system to shut down. The cyclists had blown their interface! So the next day they had an Interface Technician from El Paso Electric come out and install a special heavy-duty meter for them. Then they were in business.

And quite a business it was! Their nuke worked beyond their wildest dreams—the first month, they received a check for $1.2 million from El Paso Electric! Wow, $14,400,000 a year; now they could start buying up the Southwest and turning it into a wildlife preserve, with themselves as caretakers and wildlife!

Unfortunately, however, within a couple of years their power plant started to clog with nuclear wastes which oozed out the front door onto the ground outside, where they glowed an eerie blue-green color at night.

“We’d better clean our nuke,” they agreed, so they borrowed a pickup truck from a friend. “We’ve got to take some stuff to the dump,” they told her. They backed the pickup to the door of their nuke, grabbed a couple of shovels, and started shoveling until they had a heaping truckload of nuclear wastes. Then they trucked the wastes over to the “Waste Isolation Pilot Plant” and dumped them into the “citizen use” pit.

They bought their friend a new pickup, of course, and left the old one parked in the Buckle Bar Hills north of Radium Springs, where, for the next quarter-million years, you’ll be able to see it glowing at night whenever the moon is new.

Well, to make a long story short, the nuke only lasted for a couple more years. It started to clog with wastes more frequently, and soon the power plant was so contaminated that even the powerful “medicine” or “good karma” of the cyclists couldn’t protect them from the deadly radiation. So they decommissioned their nuke and put a brass plaque on it which said, “In Memory Of Our Nuclear Experiment.”

But at least they had managed to save more than $37 million in cold cash from their nuke, and with it they bought dozens of parcels of land scattered all over the Southwest. Then they moved onto their new solar voltaic “energy farm,” but that’s a whole other story.

Next Installment: The Cyclists Go Aquatic

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Robin and Sundew

I’m writing this memoir in honor of Robin Simpson and her daughter Sundew, both of whom are now dead. I would like to offer this piece of writing as my small gift to their memory.

I first met Robin in the fall of 1974 at a craft show in the Loretto Mall in Las Cruces. She reminded me of a woman I once knew named Carol.

“Are you named Carol, by any chance?” I asked by way of introduction.

“No,” she replied.

With most women, the relationship would have ended right there, but Robin and I had some sort of instant connection. So we kept on talking.

It turns out she had just broken up with her boyfriend after travelling around the country in a bus. (A lot of hippie-types traveled around the country in buses back then.) She and her two-year-old daughter, Sundew, had moved into a little wooden house about a mile south of my microfarm, on the other side of the Rio Grande. There were a bunch of hippie-types living in that area, so she fit right in.

About a half mile down the river from her stood a two-story house, with a little hot spring bathhouse. Max and Dan lived there. They were marble miners. Mr. Preece, who owned the Broken Arrow Rock Shop in Radium Springs, had a mining claim about 5 miles west of the highway. Max and Dan would drive Mr. Preece’s truck up the bumpy dirt road back to the marble mine, blast big chunks of marble loose with dynamite, then winch the boulders onto the truck and drive them back to the marble processing area, where Mr. Preece had a big diamond saw. The diamond saw had a blade about six feet long, with a spray of water to keep things cool. The saw moved slowly back and forth and cut the marble into slabs. They cut the slabs to a saleable size and polished them until they glistened. I once swapped Dan and Max some dope for a couple of bookends that they cut and polished for me. Dan was Robin’s boyfriend; that’s why I’m saying all this.

We hip-oids all socialized quite a bit, soaking in the hot tub at Max and Dan’s house, making music, sharing meals, smoking dope. We were always smoking dope, it seemed like. We liked to get high.

One family came down for the winter from Wisconsin every year, living in a teepee behind Max and Dan’s house. People did stuff like that back then. Do they still?

This was the “countercultural era,” when a certain cohort of our age group believed that an alternative to the mainstream monoculture was actually possible. We had no way of knowing that our beloved “alternative lifestyle” was fading away even as we were living it. Judy and I had a lot of spare time during these years, which is another way of saying that we were very poor financially. But we were very rich in unstructured time at a young enough age to fully enjoy it. When our peers were already locked into the System and getting established in their careers, we were exploring the Goat Path and digging into Reality from the inside in. In an earlier post I called this era “a wild and wonderful time,” and Robin was an integral part of it for us.

I remember wading the river with Bob Clark and walking down the Santa Fe Railroad tracks to hang out with Robin. And driving up to see the Tonuco Peak petroglyphs with her and Dan; baking bread with her and Judy; driving to upper Broad Canyon to look for arrowheads (we found one); performing “Sympathy for the Devil” in her house with Dan and a bunch of friends one night; on and on. She was a bright spirit: friendly, intelligent, good vibes; a good person to hang out with; a good person to have as a friend.

I really don’t remember Sundew all that well. She had a gimpy eye, as I recall, but other than that was a typical two-year-old. There always seemed to be kids running around, and Sundew was one of them. From my perspective, she was just another element in the total hipoid package.

I remember one evening going over to Max and Dan’s house with my friend Dave, who was gay. Dave had learned to enjoy his marijuana when he served in Vietnam with the Army, so I figured he would enjoy going over there and partaking. So we went over there and partook, and then he went to the bathhouse to take a soak. A couple of minutes later, Robin went to join him. Dave was a sweet guy and safe in his gay way, so he was no doubt a very satisfactory bath partner. But I remember feeling very quite seriously jealous of him right about then.

One afternoon in the summer of 1975 -- June, as I recall -- Robin and Sundew paid us a visit. This involved walking up the tracks, crossing a floodplain covered with saltgrass and tornillo trees, and crawling through the saltcedar thicket at the edge of the river. We heard her calling to us from across the river, so I dragged my pontoon boat into the water and paddled over to meet them. A friend had loaned me a little aluminum boat made by cutting out the top of an aircraft wing tank, and attaching pontoons on either side so it wouldn’t tip over. We attached a cow skull onto the prow of our ship, and cut quite the mythic figure paddling across the Rio Grande.

I loaded Robin and Sundew into my trusty craft and paddled back across the river. Judy and Sue Ann met us as we climbed out of the boat. Sue Ann was 5 at the time, so she and Sundew started playing together at the edge of the river.

“Want to see our new goat?” Judy asked Robin.

“Sure,” Robin replied.

So we walked over to the goat pen and talked about goats for awhile until Sue Ann came up to us, alone.

“Sundew’s gone,” Sue said.

Oh. My. God.

We ran back to where the girls had been playing and there was the river, flowing quietly and relentlessly downstream like it always does. There was no sign of Sundew.

Robin freaked and dove into the river, calling for Sundew. My memory goes blank right about then. I think that particular memory circuit self-protectively fried itself out of existence. I’m sure she screamed and cried, but all I remember is hopping into my car and driving to Leasburg Dam to see if I could spot Sundew’s body going over the spillway. This involved driving a couple of miles downstream, crossing the river, hanging a left onto Fort Selden Road, then immediately turning left along the Leasburg Canal Road, and driving a mile up the river to the dam. There were several hippie-types there hanging out (in other words, smoking dope), including one guy I knew. I imperiously told them to keep a lookout for Sundew’s body floating past, and they immediately bristled with hostility. I can’t blame them. God, what a prick I was. But I was totally freaked out and not capable of my usual standard of social nuance.

Watching for Sundew’s probably-submerged body in such a vast expanse of water seemed pointless, so I drove back home. Somewhere along in there somebody went to the Clarks’ house down the road and called the sheriff (we had no phone at the time). The deputy came out, took his report, walked down to the edge of the river where Sundew had disappeared, and said they would send divers out in the morning. I don’t know about now, but this used to happen all the time back then... a couple of times a year, probably: a family would be picnicking along the river, and suddenly somebody would notice that Johnny or Suzie had disappeared, and a fun family outing would turn into a tragedy. The sheriff’s job was to find the body, so the survivors could perform the age-old human ritual over the mortal coil from which the spirit has departed. They usually found the body, sooner or later, and I’m sure there were many closed-coffin funerals.

Afternoon turned to evening. Dan arrived in his car and picked up Robin. The next morning, the Sheriff himself came out and sat on our dock for a couple of hours as a couple of scuba divers scoured the river downstream, checking to see if Sundew’s body had gotten snagged by overhanging saltcedar branches. (Saltcedars, seeking light, grow way out into the river.)

Drowning victims usually float to the surface after a few days. As the body decays it fills with gas, giving it buoyancy. They found Sundew’s body five days later, stranded on a sandbar several miles downstream.

In my perception, Robin always had a haunted depth to her after that. She had fallen into the abyss, and I don’t know if you ever quite emerge after that. She was forever changed. She was wise beyond her years. She moved away eventually, and I heard she became a park ranger, working at various New Mexico state parks.

I visited Robin a few times in 1981, after I had left Judy and hooked up with Ellanie, the woman who would become wife #2. By this time Dan and Robin were living together. Dan had built them a house way back in the hills near Truth or Consequences. Since Ellanie lived in T or C and I was spending a lot of time there, it was easy for me to visit Robin on my trips back to Radium Springs.

Robin and I were living two very different lives by then, so we had a few good conversations and that was that. As time went on I got pretty heavily caught up in my own drama, and never saw Robin again. I later heard that she and Dan had two little girls. From time to time the idea would pop into my mind to visit Robin, but I never did.

Then, in 1994, a mutual friend told me what had happened to Robin. She said that Robin had been suffering from endometriosis, and was experiencing intense, unremitting pain. They tried everything, and nothing helped. One evening, right before Dan was to come home from work, she wrote a note, said goodbye to her little daughters, walked out into the desert, and shot herself in the head with a pistol.

I will always miss you, Robin. There is nothing more to say.



There was a potter, Bob Johnson, who had an outdoor pottery in the bosque behind where the Blue Moon Bar is now. For some reason he made hundreds of little pottery baby faces, and he left the imperfect ones scattered on the ground all around his pottery. I asked Bob if I could have them, and he said, “Sure.” So I gathered them up. One morning, about six months after Sundew had drowned, I drove over to Robin’s house with my baby faces and my camera. I had an idea. I had Robin lie on the floor, with her long hair spread around her head like a halo. Then I placed the baby faces in rows around her head. In the photo, Robin, with her gentle, open face and hands radiating a blessing, is literally The Goddess; in this particular manifestation, “Mother of Thousands.” As to what the picture “means,” I haven’t a clue. The picture says it all. I merely got the idea and implemented it.


In addition to the photograph, three pieces of writing came out after Sundew drowned: a prose piece, a song, and a poem:

The Drowning of Sundew (Mama Baca’s Little Daughter)

One afternoon Mama Baca’s little daughter fell into the Rio Ancho and was swept clean away. The boys formed a posse and probed the river with poles, but they couldn’t find anything. (Her last breath had risen alone.) For days afterwards you could hear Mona and Kid padding up and down the river path at twilight, calling softly. But Sundew never answered.

A week later, Lone Jones found Sundew’s bloated little body caught in the sluice gate of his irrigation ditch, so he trucked her up to Dos Garcias for a good simple burial into the Earth with sprinkled offerings.

The next spring Papa Baca planted a pecan tree over her grave as a memorial. “She always liked pecans,” he said.

Every fall, Mama Baca would go up there and pick the nuts from the tree for a pecan pie to remember Sundew by. She always left a few pecans on the grave.


Song segment:

Saltcedars are blooming,
Catfish are swimming,
Swallows are flying over my head.
Last week they say you fell in the river,
Today they found you lying there dead.

When the sun disappears behind the other mountain,
You know I never
Never could find the fountain.
When the moon disappears into your eyes,
You know I finally saw through your disguise.



“It’s the river!” they cried, loosing yellow feathers and lacy fronds,
waving wands, throwing hunks of scalding incense into the current.

The Earth has turned to dirty silver. Wait yer turn.

Rootie toot toot and Ten Tops tall; give us time, we’ll climb em all.
Bright inane chatter.

So was the matter? Here’s the baby, now take the cradle and rocket.

Incense sucked into the whirlpool—smoke, steam and all.

And that’s not all:
Those wands they’re waving willow whips, bark stripped off, dripping sweat;
people chant a HOOM a HOOM;
current sucking stronger now, wash away the sandbar mud
exposing silver willow roots
sending slender willow shoots across the space
a cradle rocks the human race
the chant gets louder, river moan
the BONE they found her bone, they found her bone,
the river bone, they found her bone.

And just think: we’re all in this together!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Hashish Tree

Once upon a time, our two cyclists went hiking into the rugged Robledo Mountains, which sit all hunkered down like gigantic brown hills in southern New Mexico just west of the legendary and historic Rio Grande between Las Cruces and Radium Springs.

Way back in a hidden box canyon (off the side of a side canyon, really), the cyclists spied a gnarled old tree growing at the bottom of a gnarled old cliff.

The first cyclist (who was also an excellent botanist) immediately recognized that here they had no ordinary tree! Its dark-green leaves—2” in diameter, thick like live oak leaves, and perfectly round—were like none they had never seen before. The short fat trunk, about a foot across, was covered with thick scaly bark, like a cross between a cedar and a screwbean. Although the tree stood no more than 12 feet high, it gave the appearance of great age. Little lumps of crystal amber resin sparkled an invitation from deep within the bark.

The first cyclist scratched a finger into the bark and brought forth a hunk of the strange substance. Less crumbly than mesquite resin, it had a brilliant orange kool-aid color which held the first cyclist spellbound.

The second cyclist, more to the point, immediately produced their pipe with a cry, crying, “Let’s smoke it!”

(Now we must tell you about their pack, a cheap blue K-Mart day pack, which contained a small cactus which the first cyclist had uprooted with a wayward foot. (Cyclists, like sailors and cowboys, aren’t used to walking on solid ground.) The first cyclist, feeling vaguely guilty, rescued the cactus, which, its connection with the Earth having been ripped loose, faced certain death under the coming summer suns. The pack also contained a “dinosaur tooth”—a strange-looking lump of sandstone which the first cyclist had spotted, fixated upon, and “brought to life.”)

So the cyclists laid their pack against the foot of the tree, filled their pipe with resin, and, before they knew it, became carried away with visions and dreams into the secret and unspoken hearts of the wilderness.

“Hunnh!” grunted the second cyclist hours later, reaching for the pack (which contained two hershey bars and a small jug of water, as well as the cactus and the dinosaur tooth).

“Whaah?!!” the second cyclist cried, upon discovering that the cheap blue K-Mart day pack, the pack which contained two precious hershey bars and a jug of water, as well as the cactus and dinosaur tooth, was gone! It had plum disappeared!

The second cyclist reached over and nudged the first cyclist on the back of the neck.

“Definitely other probability modalities!” cried the first cyclist, bolting upright with a start. A split-second glance over to the base of the tree triggered a torrent of concern. “Our precious hershey bars and jug of water!” the first cyclist cried.

And though they searched both high and low, their efforts were all in vain, for the pack was simply not to be found!


It was a dry and hungry hike back down that canyon, lemme tell ya! but fortunately the cyclists were still partially spaced into another causality and didn’t mind too bad. But nevertheless, by the time they reached their bikes (cleverly concealed within the inner reaches of a saltcedar thicket), they were like to croak!

So it was with some jubilation when lo! two sets of eyes fell upon a pack hanging casually from a handlebar... the same cheap blue K-Mart day pack (containing a cactus, a dinosaur tooth, two hershey bars and a jug of water) which had disappeared from the foot of the Hashish Tree!

“By what mechanism?” wondered the first cyclist, as they second cyclist, giving little squeals of delight, tore into the first hershey bar. Soon, and with appropriate appreciation, the hershey bars had found their ways inside, along with nearly a quart of water per stomach. Then the cyclists walked their bikes through the bosque over to the levee road, hopped aboard, and beat a bouncy retreat from the scene of their adventure, leaving the Hashish Tree, its destiny now unleashed, to basically just continue to sit there, alone, high in the hills.

Next Installment: The Cyclists Build a “Nuke”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Our Big Cottonwood

Between 1981 and 1986, I made 500 round-trips between Radium Springs and Truth or Consequences. I got to know the scenery pretty well. About 8 miles north of my home, across the river, was a bosque filled with large cottonwood trees. One of these trees was distinctively different, and I followed it season after season, year after year as I drove past on my trips to T or C. It was more upright than the other cottonwood trees – like a perfect stalk of broccoli. It greened up earlier in the spring. Wintertime leaflessness revealed beautiful silver bark. Plus, it was free of mistletoe. It seemed like a superior tree in every respect, and I was determined to wade over there some day and saw off a limb to plant in my front yard next to the river.

I talked to my friend Skip about the tree, and he was interested in cutting a few limbs for his own place. So we agreed to take our bow saws and harvest some limbs. I was keeping a journal at the time, and have the exact date: Thursday, January 9, 1986. Here’s the journal entry:

“Went up and harvested cottonwood limbs with Skip. I got 3 big ones and 7 small ones; Skip got 5 medium. They are heavy. Had to carry them along the drain, across the sandbar, across the river, and up the arroyo to the truck. I am EXHAUSTED.”

The next day I planted the three large limbs next to the river. I used a post hole digger and made as deep a hole as possible, then stuck in a limb and filled the hole with dirt. I watered them frequently during the first summer. Evidently only one tree survived; but then again, maybe I figured (correctly) that 3 was too many and got rid of the extras.

This is what the tree looks like after 23 growing seasons:

It’s in a great spot for a cottonwood – only 10 feet from the river. I built a fence around it to protect it from beavers. That’s Laura giving a sense of scale. I printed this picture, measured Laura and the tree, and calculated that the tree is 54 feet tall.

Here’s a close-up of treehugger Laura:

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Our Ark

Laura has taken to calling our new room “The Ark.” This sounds a lot better than “flood refuge room,” doesn’t it?

It took me a full two years to hatch this plan.

After the flood of August 2006, all options were on the table: moving out of the area, moving into Las Cruces, buying land in the north valley, putting a trailer on our beeyard land, tearing the house down and starting over, buying a houseboat and mooring it in the pasture, on and on. The options were either distasteful, impractical, or ridiculously expensive. I was in a quandary: the solution kept eluding me.

Immediately after the flood, the Highway Department built a very nice berm between our honey house and the highway, which should protect the honey house from future flooding. Protecting our house from the river, on the other hand, is virtually impossible. Theoretically, I could cut down all the saltcedars along the river and haul in countless truckloads of dirt to build a levee, but this would cost me tens of thousands of dollars, and would still not guarantee protection.

After the flood, I had to get used to the idea that our house will always be vulnerable to flooding from the river. This has required a lot of processing on my part. Fortunately, the summer of 2007 was very dry – we got only 4.32 inches of rain during the entire monsoon season – so I could continue with flood cleanup while pondering our flood vulnerability problem.

Our grace period ended with the very wet 2008 monsoon. During this time, we had many opportunities to experience our reaction to heavy thunderstorms, while living in a house totally at the mercy of whatever the weather throws our way. Our quandary reached a climax at 4 a.m. one morning in August. Laura and I were awakened from our slumber by loud thunder and heavy rain, and our fear reached an unacceptable level. We knew then that we couldn’t spend the rest of our lives living this way. Something had to be done.

The solution finally came to me in September: I needed to build a flood-proof room on stilts, Cajun-style. The obvious place to build it, I realized, was between the house and river. This is the lowest part of our land, but is flat and easy to build on. The beauty of this plan is, the new room could be part of our day-to-day living arrangement. Put the bed and our best furniture into the new room; Laura has already colonized our living room as her art studio. If the main part of the house ever gets flooded again, at least we can live in The Ark while mucking out the house. (Part of the problem with living in Las Cruces after the flood was having to spend an hour each day commuting back and forth when we were perpetually exhausted from doing flood cleanup, as well as harvesting and processing our largest wildflower honey crop ever.)

The Ark will be wood frame, 16x24 feet, on a sturdy platform 8 feet off the ground. There will be lots of windows, and a porch overlooking the river. This should give us a core habitable area, safe from any foreseeable flood. Of course, eventually Elephant Butte Dam will fail, and Selden Canyon (where we live) will be scoured down to bedrock, but that’s for future generations to think about.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Farmer's Market Fun

It was COLD at Farmer's Market! But I coped in my indomitable way:

Then I leaned back, looked up, and this is what I saw:

My day went a lot better after that.

UPDATE: This is what the tree looked like a week later.

Photos by Laura Solberg.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Great Ormo Bicycle Race


Did you know that Organ Mountain Food Co-op’s “front room” is sometimes used for bicycle racing? This is indeed a fact, and to prove it I’ll tell you about Ormo’s “Great Bicycle Race” which was held on November 28, 1980 and the air was alive with drama and excitement as the two cyclists, legs twitching with anticipation, mounted their Peugeots and Centurions and quickly took off when “Pfft!” went the starting signal and off they sped, elbow to elbow, gears clicking and clashing past piles of magazines and perilously close to the Glass Doors which fortunately did not open until after they had landed.

The cyclists left a shock wave vortex behind them which lifted little pieces of dirt and trash which danced like little butterflies in the center of the room. When plaster started to peel off the walls, however, we began to fear for the structural integrity of the very co-op building itself! Our fears were quickly confirmed when the cyclists kicked on the overdrive and the now-powerful vortex sucked up the entire co-op, bulk orders and all!

Like a cyclone out of Kansas, up and up the co-op flew, high over the streets of Las Cruces, and then rapidly northwestward. Dairy coolers tumbled below us like Space Shuttle debris. Cashiers clung to each other in dismay as bulletin boards went flapping by, announcements and proclamations ripping loose and sailing high into the distance. A centrifugal scatter of wheat berries drew great gangs of crows after their share of gravity’s cargo, destined as it was to end in a light sprinkle for the packrats and harvester ants in the desert far below.

(We will have to save the “UFO Sighting Reports” until later. Such fantastic things the ground crew saw! “Ma! Come quick! Jody says there’s a cloud of carrots in the sky!” Etc.)

Many questions sprang to mind: What would we tell the landlord? Would he believe us? Would his insurance cover such a loss? Would our insurance cover such a loss? Do we even have insurance? What will Tucson Cooperative Warehouse say, “Hoo-oo boy, Ormo’s done it again! Landed in the middle of the Uvas, huh? Had to walk back until the car caravan that the apologetic cyclists summoned came to rescue you, huh? Hoo-oo boy!”

But we get ahead of ourselves. For as soon as the quick-witted cyclists realized what was happening, to wit: “that their circular energies were in fact feeding the cyclone which held them aloft,” they swiftly learned how to modify and direct their energies, disposing of excess cargo all the way (it’s a lot of work, making a co-op fly!), eventually dropping everything except for the people and the Glass Doors, until they finally managed to set a somewhat-dizzy band of co-opers down in the middle of an amazingly-wild creosote flat next to a dirt road in the Sierra de las Uvas, a cluster of rugged desert mountains 20 miles northwest of Las Cruces, New Mexico.


“Aarghh! We’re tired!” cried the cyclists, clutching cramped muscles as they fell to earth.

You’re tired!” cried the co-opers in return, flicking dust off their derrieres. You ought to be... you got use here in the first place, you know!”

“But the Glass Doors! We saved the Glass Doors!” cried the cyclists, gesturing dramatically to the Glass Doors, which, sure enough, stood flapping slowly in the breeze behind them.

“Don’t change the subject!” cried the co-opers, all except for one of the managers, who, speechless (for once) with amazement, picked with furtive fingers at the cracked plastic of what was once a telephone.

“But the Glass Doors!” cried the cyclists. “We saved the Glass Doors!”

“But what about the Food for Health truck?” the co-opers persisted. “What are they gonna think when they pull up to a vacant lot and have to leave piles of yogurt all over the pavement?”

The cyclists, who by this time had been seized by a frenzy just as soon as their cramps had subsided enough to release all of that energy to their brains, jittered and jived all over the creosote flat, crying, “We saved the Glass Doors! We saved the Glass Doors! And think of what a valuable learning experience this is!” They sneaked up behind the Glass Doors and peeked through to the co-opers. “And think of what a valuable learning experience this is, since now here we are in the middle of the vast and mysterious desert!” they cried, springing at that moment through the Glass Doors and over to a creosote bush which they stroked with long slow strokes. “Vast and mysterious desert! And here is a creosote bush covered with fuzzy gray seeds and did you know that those seeds were once used by the original native peoples of this place?” A lifetime of energy was being released now as the cyclists shuffled and rocked, hopped and bopped around the Glass Doors, making intricate patterns among creosote bushes and clumps of grass. “The original native peoples of this place, and that’s us now, you know, out here in the middle of the vast and mysterious desert!”


As soon as the co-opers had been enchanted into silent desert rapture, the quick cyclists hopped back aboard their bikes (miraculously unscathed till now) and started cranking on down the road toward rescue, beating the hell out of their magnesium alloy rims as they bounced over, under, around and through the potholes and gullies of first the Choases Canyon Road and later the Magdalena Peak Observatory Road all the way to the Corralitos Observatory (the clear New Mexico skies spawn observatories) from whence they put out mysterious phone calls to their friends: “Drive out to the desert real quick and pick us up and save your questions till later, all right?”


Good hikers, those co-opers! Across hill and dale, through mesquite and thick gravel, here they come, aiming straight towards the red beacon of the “Relay Antenna Tower” light. (Them RAT lights are everywhere!) Despite the fact that it’s 9 p.m., and despite the fact that it’s rather chilly, and despite the fact that they’ve had no water for six hours, the co-opers are in good spirits, telling RAT stories, thirst jokes, etc. They’ve made it almost to the Observatory by now, and now a dramatic scene starts to unfold for us as the rescue caravan arrives.

Police, power lights flashing, have joined the caravan which is now climbing the last grade to the Observatory, headlights catching the white dome then moving on. The co-op band, a dark smudge on the horizon, is descending towards the Observatory as the caravan fans out in a ragged semicircle onto the parking lot. Headlights frame the spectacle like a low-key football game and cop lights stab random forays into the darkness. At this moment the co-opers stumble out into the light through snapping twigs and thorns which crackle and drag like the high fires of Pentecost.

And what about the cyclists? Are they sneaking around in the background, unsure of how the other co-opers will receive them? (The cyclists hadn’t even asked for consensus, after all!) Not at all, for they had biked right on back to the Landing Site and are right now in the process of RETRIEVING THE GLASS DOORS for us! Which is easier said than done. Holding the heavy Glass Doors between them, the cyclists carry on a low conversation as they return, generator headlights flickering feebly before them. “Why didn’t we think of this the first time?” they ask each other. Or they grunt and say, “Unngg this mother’s heavy!”

And right at the moment that the co-op band reaches the light and cries, “Water! Gimme water!” the cyclists pull up unnoticed at the edge of the proceedings and proceed to set up the Glass Doors which sparkle and glint and reflect empty gallon jugs of water back and forth among each other.

After much joshing around, the cyclists are finally integrated back into the group. “No worry! All is forgiven, cyclists! Bygones are byegones! We’ll do better next time, right?” And so the Glass Doors are loaded into a rusty old van and trucked back to the well-vacuumed co-op site and set back into place so a new co-op can be built around them... and they’re still there today—the famous Glass Doors of Organ Mountain Co-op!


Fortunately, the proposed 18-lap race ended in a dead heat after 2½ laps. People immediately came running in, making fluttering fanning motions towards the door. “Whenh!” they cried. “Get that dead heat outta here!” So the cyclists picked it up (at arm’s length) with their fingertips and carefully carried it out the back and across the parking lot to the vacant lot behind Valley Glass, where it eventually took root amid the trash and broken glass, and it’s doing quite well now, thank you!

Next Installment: The Hashish Tree

Our Flood Adventures

1. Our Early Flood Experiences

When I first moved here in 1973, I didn’t give much thought to flooding. The previous occupant had carved a niche for his little travel trailer into the high ground next to the highway overlooking the Rio Grande, and this seemed good enough for me. (I had a casual, hippy-dippy attitude in those days.) Everything worked just fine for over 30 years, but Mother Nature had other plans. Like flood victims everywhere, I share the lament, “If only I had known!”

My first introduction to the reality of having a river as my neighbor came the very first summer, 1974. I had built a little hay shed out in the pasture, and I awoke one morning to find the pasture – and my shed full of hay – flooded with about 18” of water. This was to be the first of many pasture floods. They followed a pattern typical of all rivers: whenever a river floods, it drops most of its sediment right at the very edge, forming a natural levee. The land further from the river is lower than at the edge of the river. In our case, this means that whenever the river rises even an inch or two higher than the natural levee, the basin behind it fills with about 18” of water. This, I could handle. Flooding always leaves a sloppy mess behind, but at least the pasture gets a good irrigation. And for more than 20 years, this seemed to be the pattern. Some summers we’d get flooded a time or two, maybe even three times. Then, we could go up to 5 years without a flood.

The flood of 1995 was our first out-of-the-ordinary flooding experience. After several years of heavy snowpacks, all the lakes – from Caballo Lake all the way north to Colorado – were full to overflowing. The dam authorities have a mandate to store as much irrigation water as possible, with no thought given to what happens downstream when the lakes are full and the spillways start to overflow. (Once the spillways overflow, the water flow is out of control.) So when Elephant Butte and Caballo Lakes started to overflow, and the river starting carrying an uncontrolled amount of water, our pasture quickly flooded to a depth of about 2½ feet... and stayed that way for several weeks. Ducks and carp were swimming in our front yard. My garden, which was now barely above water level, started to die. The roots were flooded, and the plants died day by day, right in front of my helpless, horrified eyes. It had been a good garden, too – that year I had planted 12 different potato varieties as an experiment, and the plants were doing very well. Not to mention all the usual garden plants – tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons – all dead within a week. Laura called the authorities and cried into the phone, to no avail. Welcome to life in the floodplain, kids!

After the water finally subsided, I planted a bunch of cucumber seeds in the soggy soil, figuring the dirt would soon dry out, and I had an excellent crop of cucumbers in late summer into the fall. That winter I bought a couple of truckloads of “topsoil” (ironic quotes intentional), and a steaming, stinking, truckload of cow manure. I hired a guy with a Bobcat to first cover the old garden with new dirt (to raise it, I hoped, above flood level) and then spread a layer of manure that I could rototill in. It turns out I way overdid the manure. The garden became a sodden, septic mess – there wasn’t enough air for the friendly aerobic bacteria, so the garden basically turned into a sewer. I rototilled it a few times that next summer, and eventually things returned to normal. Live and learn, I suppose.

We had a bit of a breather for the next few years, but then our house got flooded for the first time on Aug. 3, 1999. It started out as a normal pasture flood, so I thought nothing of it. But the water kept on rising. (As we learned later, this flood was caused by 6” of rain the previous night in the southern part of the Black Range, which dumped an extraordinary amount of water into the river.) We were constantly thinking, “Surely it will stop rising now!” but the water kept on rising. After an hour or so it had reached the porch in front of Neil’s bedroom door (Neil’s bedroom was at the lowest level of our house). We started emptying everything out of his bedroom. The water kept rising, very slow and stately -- an irresistible force of nature. After about an hour we had everything out of his room except for the heaviest furniture.

Into the house the water came, slow and relentless. It only flooded Neil’s bedroom a couple of inches deep, but left a total mess behind. His wall-to-wall carpet was soaked with muddy water. I was concerned that the wooden floor would rot. My philosophy is, “When in doubt, do nothing,” so we just abandoned the room for four months. Neil slept on the sofa in the living room. The first month, we just left all the windows open and ran a fan 24 hours a day to dry everything out as quickly as possible. Then we just waited. We had plenty of other things to do.

We were finally able to attack the cleanup job in early December, and it wasn’t too bad. The wooden floor was still sound. The dried mud on the surface had cracked into a thousand pieces, and was easy to remove. We vacuumed the carpet a couple of times, and rented a Rug Doctor to give a carpet a good steam cleaning. Everything was as good as new, pretty much. Then we moved everything back into Neil’s room, and he was back in business, roomwise.

After that, we had a series of dry years, with no flooding whatsoever. Things seemed back to normal. Then came the Monsoon from Hell.

Next Installment: The Great Flood of ‘06

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Exploding Mikweed Vine pods
Photo by Laura Solberg

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

I’m still puzzling out what I’m supposed to be doing with this blog. I even had to delete a few posts to get closer to the flavor I’m striving for. Some subjects are obvious to write about, and there are also a couple of topics I don’t want to write about very much anymore -- politics and economics.

I spent a lot of time writing about politics during the Bush era. Some people think that’s all I ever write about. As long as the Bush emergency lasted, I figured it was my civic duty to keep the whine level as shrill as possible. Now that Obama and his crew are poised to take over, the pressure has eased a bit and we can relax a little and ponder our true situation.

I got what I wanted from my $150 investment in Obama – we aren’t going to have a crazy warmonger as president, and for that I’m grateful. Instead, we now get a team of sober-minded “national security hawks” running the show. At least I don’t have to worry about Neil getting drafted during the next couple of years. I wish the Obama Team the very best, but I see little role for citizens down at my level except to make the best of whatever we’re presented with from on high.

So much for politics, although occasionally they’ll be intruding themselves into these cyber pages, I’m sure.

The other subject I don’t want to write about very much is the economy and our ongoing -- and already-perpetual -- economic crash. I’m sure that all the readers of this blog run a quick risk/benefit analysis before undertaking any action whatsoever -- whether it be crossing the street or buying a home -- and are prepared to accept the consequences of their actions. There’s little I can contribute to this process.

So what’s left?

If I had a lick of sense I would never write about spirituality again, but the audacity of writing about the unwritable appeals to me very much. My brain is heating up; things are starting to boil over on the back burner once more, so before long I’ll probably be explaining the unexplainable yet again.

For the next little while I’ll probably be writing more homesteady-type stuff, like my “Buying Hay” and “Dechaosification” posts. The local and immediate – that’s the realm I can really relate to. The stuff that dreams are made of.

Speaking of dreams, I’ll be posting one of my “oldies” every Saturday morning before I leave for Farmer’s Market. I wrote a bunch of little stories back in the day... some of them are entirely fictional, others are autobiographical to some extent; the technical term would be “Sorta True-Enough Tales.” Except for the cyclist stories, of course.