Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ultra Violets

This is one of the most spectacular African violet blooms we've ever had. It's one of our favorite colors -- a rich velvety violet.

Two Lips

A tasty pair. The bigger one was the "tulip mandala" from the other day. These are growing in the middle of a Mexican petunia patch. By the time the Mexican petunias start to grow in late spring, the tulips have completed their growth cycle for the year, and have reverted to bulb mode. This works out well for all concerned.

21 degrees

That's how cold it got Saturday morning in our frost pocket. It's the late-March freeze I talked about when explaining why I plant my spring veggies in coldframes. It doesn't happen every year, but often enough to force me to take precautions.

Of course, any apple blossoms and baby apples were zapped. (The Braeburn apple that I featured the other day blooms especially early). Fortunately, unopened flower buds are quite hardy.

One of my research projects was to identify apple varieties that bloom late enough to avoid frost. This seemed like important information for a survival orchardist to know. For several years, I kept records of when my apple trees started blooming. I identified several promising varieties. Someday I'll go through my records and see if I can draw some conclusions.

My red mulberry tree next to the Ark's river deck got zapped as well. During the early 90s I spent several thousand dollars on edible trees, shrubs and vines: "Try them all and let God sort them out." I tried several varieties of mulberry and discovered that some varieties wouldn't grow here at all. (I blamed the alkaline soil or alkaline water). The varieties that grew well bloomed very early, so most years they'd get zapped by frost. If they avoided frost, birds would eat the fruit as soon as they showed color. So I cut most of my mulberry trees down. I left the red mulberry because it's a nice little tree, not for the fruit. Now it will leaf out several weeks late because the backup buds have to activate, and they require considerable heat. No sense rushing into things after getting zapped, after all. Just like real life.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Somewhere in Texas, 1978

Rock Strata


If You Seek a Pleasant Community, Look About You!

This is Laura’s third Lauratorial, which appeared in Earth Quarterly #3, January 1999.

I used to think lots of things. I used to think that if I could only become perfect, then I would be able to go about the world happily, interacting with people in a healthy way. I used to think that I had to be perfect before I could even try to build relationships. I used to think that if I could only find the perfect mate, then we could be by ourselves, being perfect together. I have been thoroughly disabused of these thinkings over the years.

What if what Shakespeare said is true, that all the world is a stage and we are all actors? That really grabs my attention, because then all I am is the part I am playing, which I can’t do alone, even if it is a soliloquy. Even if I appear to be on stage alone, gushing out my emotions, I must still believe that there is an audience out there for me to perform for. Which brings me to my point, that we are not solitary creatures—we have an innate desire/need to be with others.

Community is something that I have been hearing a lot about lately. On our recent travels to promote and find material for Earth Quarterly, I will bet I talked with at least twenty individuals who shared their vision/dream/plan for creating their own community. Each one had a spot, or a possible spot in mind—Dripping Springs, Cascabel, Paradise, Crestone, Cloudcroft. Most of them had acreage—40 to 1200—as part of the plan. These communities were at various stages of development, from merely an idea to actually owning and working the land and advertising for members to join. Most incorporated some form of gardening/orcharding, husbandry of the land, sharing of dining facilities, and meaningful ceremonies. Some had specific rules or regulations in their ideal communities, such as eating only vegan food or no alcohol or drugs on the property. The one thing that they all seemed to share is that they want to be safe places for like-minded folks to grow together and to support each other and be supported in their growth. The theme seems to be: THERE HAS GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY TO LIVE.

I confess that I have also been yearning for my community. This Thanksgiving was the happiest that I ever remember since my childhood. I grew up in a family of women. My mother divorced when I was tiny and as a personal blessing to me, took my sister and me to live in my Grandma’s house with my Grandma. For a long time I didn’t realize that I had no father. I was well supplied and thoroughly loved by my two parents—Mother and Grandma. Grandma was truly well named—a grand lady, the matriarch of our family. The rest of our extended family all came and gathered at Grandma’s house on weekends and holidays. This was cool because I already lived there! Thanksgiving with all the leaves in the table and at least one extra card table was a given. Practically every Sunday of my childhood, I gathered with people who had known me since forever. Every holiday meant playing with my cousins and listening to my Aunts and Aunties "palavering" with my mother and grandma. It was a foundation for me to grow in. I knew who my group was, and I had a clear picture of who we were. When I moved away in my twenties and my grandma died, that support system changed.

I have lived here in Radium Springs with Gordon for ten years. There are two other families that we have known all that time. All three families have one son apiece—ages 7, 9, and 11. One of the families bought our neighbor’s house about five years ago and moved in a third of a mile north of us. Their property adjoins ours, with an overgrown "river walk" for the kids to walk safely back and forth between the two houses, away from the road. The other family lives too far away for our preference. They are on the other side of Las Cruces from us, probably as far from town in their direction as we are in our direction. Available land around here is quite expensive and they have other dreams and callings, but they are willing to drive out here and we sometimes go to their house to see them. It all sounds quite lovely and perfect. It is. It is also a lot of just plain hard work, from the relationship perspective. (Every other perspective too, but that’s another piece of writing!)

We just very probably love these six people. (And several others besides that I haven’t described here.) But love is a process. It is, I am discovering, a way of behaving. Let me explain. We’ve gone through lots of trials, tribulations and snits with these dear folks. Like the "three boy" phenomenon that we have dealt with for years. (Remember the time line—we’ve known them for ten years, and the boys are now 7,9 and 11) Two of the boys at one time can manage to get along, but add the third and it automatically becomes like three testosterone baby roosters with hands (fists). We’ve moderated their mini-wars for many years. The boys do better now, sometimes...

Anyway, we have come together many times over the years for different reasons. We started "Full Moon Drumming" three years ago last October. The three families and various other neat/cool/friendly folks meet in our pasture or in the above mentioned neighbors’ back yard or sandbar (we are both right on the Rio Grande) on the Saturday closest to full moon and engage in some degree of drumming, dancing, and howling. It’s been a very mixed bag over the years: everything from major drumming and wild ecstatic dancing to quiet chats by the bonfire. Lots of marshmallows, popcorn, boys with "fire sticks," dogs, dog fights, guitars, dulcimer, penny whistle solos, and starry nights where I fall asleep stinking of smoke. There were times when we despaired of ever being able to modify the boys’ behavior. But we continued to do Full Moon Drumming, and we just printed up the schedule for 1999, so I reckon we will be continuing.

Another thing that we did together several years ago was dubbed "Dirt Group" (because many of us enjoy digging in the dirt). We met once a month at somebody’s house for a potluck and a discussion about some "permaculture-related" topic. We advertised it in the local newspapers and met some swell new folks, several of whom have remained welcome members of our "group." Dirt Group sort of fell apart (remember the "trials, tribulations and snits" bit) (I take full responsibility for the "snits"), but our core group of co-supporters did not fall apart.

Thanksgiving this year we decided to get together in spite of "family obligations," so we organized a Day After Thanksgiving Festival and Potluck. It was so successful that it went on for two days and included a wonderful new family from Pinos Altos that we recently met. It became an overnighter! We liked that so much we did a Second Day of the New Year Extravaganza Potluck and Orchard Clean-up combined with Full Moon Drumming. It was just as good, a smaller group, but with the same spirit-sustaining sense about it. I baked cupcakes and scalloped potatoes that morning knowing that I would be feeding them to some of the people who help to feed my soul. This could be big. We’re on to something here!

Okay, so what does this all mean? Well, I guess it means that we (generic humanity) might probably have the potential for a community wherever we might be, unless we are not around any other people at all. I suppose there are people who could make a community with just trees and animals. I know I couldn’t—I know I like having people in my life with whom I can talk, dance, wrangle, explore, eat, share, and grow. After all, it would be tough to convince a deer or a squirrel to write a book review for EQ!

Gordon and I have been looking for our community for many years, searching for "our people," which is one reason for starting Dry Country News and Earth Quarterly. The motto for the state of Michigan can be altered to describe what we have found out—"If you seek a pleasant community, look about you!" The Michigan motto refers to a "pleasant peninsula," but the point is the same to me. I am probably where I am to learn something, and if I were living somewhere else I would still have me there creating my world. My life and my world are my own outpicturing, the result of my own personal growth, a mirroring of my own inner consciousness, my own access to the Infinite. My community exists within me first; then it appears to happen out there. If I am unhappy with my surroundings, I can go within myself for the lesson, and ask for information about the stumbling block. My "pleasant peninsula" is available to me by surrendering to that which lies beyond the reach of my mind, in the silence of my own inner being. We all make our own community by continuing to open ourselves to All That Is.

Thank you Owen, Katia, David, Daniel, Amber, Jeremiah, Theresa, Howard, Mike, Melissa, and all you ever-lovin’, full moon drummin’, strummin’, subscribin’ friends out there! Also I would like to say a special thanks to my mother, who taught me about unconditional love and acceptance by the way she has always lived her life. Thanks too to my mom-in-law for her unfaltering support. Please stay in touch, everybody!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bowl of Cheerios

Radium Springs, NM, 1978

Highway 85

Radium Springs, NM, 1982

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What Is This?

Sycamore Bark, 1978

Rusted Can


This is technically not folk art, but I liked the composition.

Putting Out the Light at San Lorenzo

Kid snuggles his chin against the butt of his revolver and relaxes his grip.

As time passes, the lights below wink out, one by one, until only one light is left.

Kid takes careful aim and fires, leaving the town in darkness.

Dogs bark and answer, but not for long.

Kid raises his head as if awaiting a signal. He’s hard as nails, but his eyes are liquid inside.

Friday, March 27, 2009


I started the front part of my greenhouse in December 2003, and finished it in spring 04. The top row of windows on the greenhouse are double panes of glass that I installed with silicone caulk. The bottom row is a motley collection of openable windows, mostly recycled with a couple of new ones, very useful for ventilation.

The size of the greenhouse part is 8x20 feet. For the roof, I used "crystalite" fiberglass, available in 4x25 foot rolls from Gothic Arch Greenhouses online. Over this, paranoid about hail as I am, I installed 1/2" hardware cloth.

The room in the back, with the clerestory windows, was built in the autumn of 2007. It is also 8x20 feet. It was delayed a year because of the flood of 06. When open, the clerestory windows provide a lot of ventilation for the greenhouse, and keep it from overheating during the daytime.

This greenhouse is loosely modeled on Kathy Hope's greenhouse in Questa, NM. In our hotter climate in southern NM, it's not necessary to slant the south wall towards the sun. A vertical south wall works just fine, and is a lot easier to build.

To the left of the greenhouse is the apple tree we featured a couple of days ago. To the right is the ever-present Rio Grande. Yes, we do live right on (and occasionally in) the river.

I built 5 heavy-duty shelves in the back wall of the greenhouse, lined with 4- and 5-gallon plastic buckets, filled with water and painted black to absorb as much solar energy as possible. This "water wall" contains 3000 pounds of water, and prevents the greenhouse from freezing at night. In previous winters I had a significant condensation problem -- the water buckets were considerably cooler than the air temperature during the day, and water would collect on the surface of the buckets and drip off. This past winter I neglected the greenhouse and left the clerestory windows open all winter. Not only didn't my plants freeze, even though outside temperatures dropped as low as 10 deg., but there was no condensation problem.

Look, a greenhouse sprite! I had sensed her presence in there from time to time, and I feel fortunate to have finally captured her image. On the left, I have pineapple guava, orange, and kumquat. The two citrus have never borne fruit, and I'm starting to feel frustrated. I'd hate to cut them down, but greenhouse space is too precious for nonproductive trees. On the right are two tomato plants growing all the way to the ceiling. The brown leaves are courtesy of my neglect -- obsessed with the Ark as I was, I didn't water the greenhouse for two entire months -- December and January. I'm making it up to everybody now, but the brown leaves remain as my winter legacy.

The Laws of Reality

This is Laura’s second Lauratorial, which appeared in Earth Quarterly #2, Sept. 1998.

Well, my life has definitely become much more "interesting." I moved onto this little homestead ranch ten years ago after spending my life pretty much as a city gal. Through Gordon have come many important lessons in how the REAL world works. By that I mean Nature’s laws. Living with Gordon (Mister grapes, apples, carrots, and tomatoes himself), I have come face to face with the consequences of the natural world. If I want to eat grapes and I have my orchard in a frost pocket, then I must cover and heat the vines every single night that there is frost after those grapes have broken dormancy in the spring. There is no exception made for the night that I am especially tired because of a sick child. The law is always the same and always the same for all. Cover them or lose them, every time. The law is the same about frost, birds, drought, floods, hail, squash bugs, etc.

So my point is that the law makes no exceptions, and all that I—or anyone—has to do is to learn the law and conform to it in order to eat grapes later in the summer. In other words, to create my own life, I must learn the laws of reality and conform to them. This has been, and continues to be, a process of my becoming more mature—me growing up.

Our current interest in alternative building is another example of this teaching metaphor. We really are on our way home. We are all of us inwardly headed home to the reality of our being, and when we open our eyes, we see our outward home replicating our current state of consciousness. Many of us are awakening to another way, a better way. Building our homes is an outward manifestation of our inner journey.

We give birth to our lives, for better or worse, from our understanding of and conformation with cosmic law. We are pretty good at wrecking a planet, now we must learn how to take care of one.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rainwater Catchment

This is one of my spring 08 projects. I've always wanted to do rainwater harvesting, and 2008 was my year to do it. I bought a 1000-gallon plastic tank from Western Blend, located on Valley Drive north of Las Cruces. With tax, the tank cost me $699.19, and they delivered it for free.

I built a heavy-duty platform, since a full tank of water weighs over 8000 pounds. I used railroad ties for the uprights, digging holes and embedding them in concrete. You get a massive amount of lumber for the price, but I vowed never to buy railroad ties again. Not only are they extremely heavy, but they are embedded with sand and gravel, which quickly dulls the chainsaw blades I was cutting them with. I was able to get a couple of cuts per chain, if I was lucky. Fooey on that; if I ever do something like this again, I'll just buy treated 6x6 lumber and pay the higher price.

For the horizontal part of the platform, I used treated 2x8 lumber on 12" centers, and on top of that I nailed treated 2x6 planks.

I'm currently harvesting rainwater from the roof to the right of the tank; that's my honey extractor visible through the window. This summer I hope to add a gutter to the room on the left and harvest from that roof as well. The brown pipes are to handle the overflow. Two 4" pipes is probably overkill, but I wanted my system to handle any 4" rains in the future, God forbid.

I had planned on drip irrigating a small garden with this tank, and I might still do it. One thing to consider is that we can easily go 9 months or more between rains heavy enough to fill a tank, so it would be very easy to empty a tank and still have months to go before the next rain. For this reason, I'm using our stored rainwater to irrigate houseplants, and fill the fish tank -- they appreciate the relatively pure rainwater rather than the alkali-laden river water or worse, well water.


The redbud is a common understory tree in the hickory/oak forests of the eastern U.S. When I lived in the Ozarks during the early 1970s, I enjoyed the redbuds blooming in profusion during the spring. Wanting the recreate the experience, I bought several small redbud trees about 10 years ago. This one is the biggest, and it puts out more blooms every year. Bees love redbud.

Grassroots Press Column, Apr-May 09 Issue

It's funny -- I'm trying to get away from writing this kind of stuff, but when I'm offered the chance to write for 10,000 people, this is what comes out. Once I got beyond the need to be liked, I enjoyed the raw power of writing an accurate and hard-hitting article. I told the editor, Steve Klinger, to be sure and hide the razor blades and rat poison from his readers. You can see why I'm concentrating on homestead happenings and beautiful photographs these days:

The acid test of any prognosticator is, how accurate were their past predictions? Here’s what I wrote in Earth Quarterly back in May 1998, when George W. Bush was a mere blip on the horizon:

"Although it is impossible to predict the future in detail, I think we can map out some general trends, and they aren’t pretty. If we thought the 20th Century was something, we ain’t seen nothing yet! Here are some safe bets: Overpopulation will get much worse, destruction of the biosphere will become even more extreme, the rich will continue to get richer at the expense of everyone else, government will continue to have a severe case of "rot at the top," decadence will increase as society as we knew it continues to degenerate, and the worship of wealth and technology will remain the de facto religion of the global mass culture. This sounds like a grim scenario, but I think it’s necessary to face up to reality if we seriously expect to do anything about it. For the present time, "full speed ahead and damn the consequences" remains the unspoken policy of the global ruling class. It remains to be seen if we can sufficiently change the destructive momentum of our species in time to avert the ecological catastrophes that await us if we don’t."

So as far as past predictions go, I rest my case. Except for the "remains to be seen" part. Because now we know for sure.

Looking to the future, here are a couple of quick observations:

About the financial crisis: Most human cultures have been dominated by elites of one kind or another since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago, when the first band of ruffians discovered that they could take over the store of grain and hold the rest of the society hostage. We’ve been held captive in various ways ever since. We’ve been trained to call them Royalty, but in actuality they are Parasites. Somebody called ours The Tapeworm Economy and that’s an accurate description. We and the planet are being bled to death by parasites.

As long as status-quo society is functioning, the parasites will remain in power. Thus, the parasites will continue to receive unlimited bailouts while the rabble (that’s us, by the way, no matter how affluent you like to think you are) will be bled dry. This means, among other things, reducing our pesky "entitlements" – social security, health care, education, protecting the environment, you name it – such superfluous activities will be cut to the bone whenever possible. "Entitlement reform" and "difficult choices" will be hot topics by the time this issue of Grassroots Press comes out.

Eventually, if we’re bled far enough, society will break down, and I’m not at all sanguine about all the yahoos with assault rifles out there. I’m not seeing much evidence of spontaneous uprisings of sustainability or community; at least, not enough to make the necessary difference to mainstream American culture. It’s possible that communities in favored locations (the Southwest isn’t one of them) might survive; I would recommend Alaska or northern Canada.

About the climate catastrophe: Denial remains a popular option. The worse things get, the more Americans are skeptical that climate change is any big deal. Ha ha, fools, the joke’s on you! Unfortunately. Because the joke’s on all of us. We now know that melting permafrost will release enormous amounts of methane and CO2 into the atmosphere, which will make global warming much worse. But now there’s something new to watch for: the increasingly acidic oceans are having a negative impact on the plankton that produce most of the planet’s oxygen. To the denialists: go choke on that!

I’ve had many conversations with a friend about this, and we’ve concluded that fundamentally, nothing has changed. Humans are fatalistic by nature, for good reason. ("I probably won’t die today, but if I do, it’s the will of Allah, or blind chance, or whatever.") We as individuals are going to die anyway... we each have to make our own peace with reality in our own way, or not. The Earth is going to die anyway, when the Sun becomes a red giant in the far distant future. Moving the date of planet death forward by 5 billion years isn’t such a big deal in the grand scheme of things. It looks like giving apes such big brains wasn’t such a good idea, after all. Nobody ever said that evolution is perfect – some mutations are beneficial, but most are lethal. It just took awhile for the lethality of our mutation to play itself out.

I’m reminded of the wine yeast that finds this marvelous vat of grape juice, so it grows and grows, excreting alcohol all the while, until the yeast is killed by its own waste products. Such a splendid planet we are rapidly destroying.

We can definitely expect discontinuities in the not-too-distant future, and life will become very interesting. For better or worse, we will keep on doing whatever it is we already know how to do, until we are no longer able to do so. As usual, I’m always eager to be pleasantly surprised, and would love to be wrong about all this. You can start expecting upbeat articles from me whenever the CO2 levels in the atmosphere start to drop. Don’t hold your breath.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tulip Mandala

Laura photographed one of our newly-opened tulips this morning.

Game Change

"We are talking about how to be able to change the games that Peoples play.

The strategy of game change is: you don’t change a game by winning it or losing it or refereeing it or observing it. You change it by leaving it and going somewhere else and starting a new game from scratch. If it has appeal it will gather its own energy.

Whatever plays the game, the game is played on the field of the physical. Mind points don’t count unless something happens physically. Move the molecules, or admit you’re a spectator.

There are lots of ways to organize social behavior. The advantage of working with games is that they are regenerative, if they work. The fun of playing sustains the game from within, from the pleasure of the players. Instigators need not be leaders; the game generates its own leadership and succession."

-- Stewart Brand
The Whole Earth Catalog
Laura asks, "Do we have to move all the molecules ourselves?"
I used to think this quote was applicable to real life until I realized the only way to "go somewhere else and start a new game from scratch" would be to move to another planet.

The Essence of Simplicity

Laura wrote this Lauratorial for the first issue of Earth Quarterly, May 1998:

Simplicity does not happen "out there." It is the effect of what has already happened within me. Simplicity happens within me, and then it flows out, becoming my world.

I am a wife, mom, and full-time student who works at our home bakery, publishing and beekeeping businesses, and I have a passionate interest in dancing. I am also on my food co-op board of directors. This seems like a lot of activities to take up my time, and indeed it is plenty. A couple of years ago, when we started up Dry Country News again, I remember noting how frequently I was hearing people say how busy their lives were, how they felt like they were trapped on a treadmill, going nowhere at top speed. Many times, as a bread and honey vendor at our local farmer’s market, I heard people say that they felt out of control of their lives. I could relate!

But something has changed for me since then. Lately I have been more and more aware of relaxing because I have realized that I am not in control of my life. I have become grateful that I am powerless over my life. As people have harangued their way around me, I have become aware that I am no longer so bothered by issues like flat tires, final exams, computer lab problems, deadlines, sick children, broken water lines, tax errors, wind, weather or fat on my hips! It’s not that these things have stopped happening to me (because they haven’t), but I do not get as upset as I used to about them. It is as if I am standing back from them, watching them on a video, not completely believing they are real.

When this happens to me, I find myself moving freely and rightly in the action, moved by an unseen force to take a healthy part in the drama. (Not getting upset sounds like it might be apathy. I have experienced apathy in my life, and this is not apathy. I have discovered it to be exactly the opposite.) I have found that this process frees up loads of energy that had been hiding in all my previous life hassles. These days I am happily busier, more involved in life than I ever could have been in the past.

I am becoming more aware that this is the essence of simplicity. It’s simple, the quintessence of simple, to lean back in the boat, drop the oars and let the river take me. I am fully participating in life, and yet am not under my own power or direction.

When I was a little girl, I went to an amusement park and rode on a boat ride. I got into a boat that went down a river, over a waterfall, through the rocks and safely back to the dock. This experience took all of about three minutes, during which time I was tugging, twisting and turning the steering wheel on my little boat. I was "piloting my craft" for all I was worth, as if my success depended on it. I was scared, excited, overwhelmed, anxious, thrilled and very triumphantly proud of myself during the course of the ride. I remember years later when I realized that the boat was secured to a fixed track underneath by a powerful cable, pulling it along on its predestined path. All of my "efforts" to steer were entirely futile. The only place it mattered what I did was inside my own mind. Not bad for a 25¢ playland ticket! I thought I was happy, scared, sad, all those human life feelings and emotions, when what I really was, was fine. I was fine, safe, taken care of, on my path back home to a home I only thought I had left. The happy ending back at the dock was ensured from the moment I "left" the quay. Simple. Home.

I find my true home within, in a deep, silent, no-place place. Then I open my eyes and see my homestead, river, garden, mountains, husband, son, dogs, cats and all the other "characters" of my life that are so important, lovable, needy and dear. The difference now is that I am not so frequently fooled into thinking that my sense of home comes from out there. I know it flows out from within me to appear as "home" out there.

I am the movie camera projecting the film of my life out onto a blank canvas. The difference now is that I have come to the realization that I don’t always write the best scripts for the drama I am living. I write the scripts with the anxiety, pain, despair, overwork, loneliness, dissension and need. The beautiful, peaceful, purposeful, effective scripts come flowing through me as vehicles for that powerful underwater unseen, unknown cable, which guides my boat along where it wills. What a pleasure life then becomes! I then know that life has no meaning; it is simply to be lived, as well as possible. When I stop fighting with the steering wheel, stop worrying about the rocks, stop trying to avoid the plunging waterfalls, I am simply taken safely along. In gratitude about my powerlessness, I know I have never left home, despite the picture show "out there." There is no "out there"—it all happens within me.

The experience recognizes itself. If you recognize what I am saying, then you also have it at a conscious level. If "something" within you says that what I am saying is true, then you are awake to your own reality. Rest in that. Trust in that. It will be your home.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Apple Blossom Time

The apples trees are in full bloom this week. This is our Braeburn apple tree, which is almost 20 years old. It was supposed to be a semi-dwarf, but it looks like a full-sized tree to me. That's Laura hidden amongst the blossoms at the bottom.

Here's a medium shot...

And a close-up. The tree was swarming with bees, but none happened to be in this picture.

Flying Solo

I've moved hives hundreds of times during the past 25 years or so. I always move hives at night, when the bees are all at home. Moving hives requires two people -- one on each end of the hive lifter, a metal device that slips over the hives and enables them to be moved as easily as you can move something so heavy... hives often weigh over 100 pounds.

Most recently, I've hired either my son Neil, or his friend Devon, to help me move hives. I was scheduled to move hives with Neil this evening, but Neil brought Devon along and wanted the two of them to move the hives by themselves. This is costing me twice as much, of course, since I'm paying two helpers rather than one, but it's worth it. Here I am, luxuriating at my computer, while they're out there doing all the heavy lifting.

This shot shows them posed jauntily on my little trailer, that holds 6 hives. Like the tough film students they are, they're both smoking cigarettes. Neil smokes Camels, and Devon prefers Marlboros.

This shows the complete setup. The car is my 86 Mazda 323, to which I added a trailer hitch. I use the Mazda without the trailer to harvest honey and do other bee-related tasks. It's a mini-system that has worked very well for me over the years. I use the luggage rack to carry hive boxes and fume boards (used for harvesting honey).

The brown stains on the bee suits are propolis. Neil is wearing my suit, which is heavily stained. I hold the heavy supers up against my body while harvesting honey, and the propolis on the hives rubs against the suit.
UPDATE: Well don't that just suck! Here I was, happily ensconsed at my computer, taking it easy, snug as a bug, when I get a call informing me that the Mazda had died. Great, just great. Now I get to head out into the cold darkness on a rescue mission. Great. Fantastic. Make my day, why don't ya. I thought I was headed for a standard jump start routine but as evidence quickly showed, we were dealing with a more serious problem -- the alternator had crapped out. The Mazda was operating on battery power only. We managed to limp home, towing 4 hives in the trailer, jumping the Mazda 4 times and charging the battery for about 10 minutes each time with the jumper cables. Today we'll have it towed to the shop and have a new alternator installed. I highly recommend towing insurance, especially for rural dwellers. It's cheap, convenient, and a fantastic bargain if you use it at least once a year like we do.

Things Turned Out The Way I Said They Would

One measure of someone who presumes to predict the future is to see how their past predictions turned out. Here are some of mine, which appeared in Earth Quarterly #1, May 1998. Not bad, I'd say:


Although it is impossible to predict the future in detail, I think we can map out some general trends, and they aren’t pretty. If we thought the 20th Century was something, we ain’t seen nothing yet! Here are some safe bets: Overpopulation will get much worse, destruction of the biosphere will become even more extreme, the rich will continue to get richer at the expense of everyone else, government will continue to have a severe case of "rot at the top," decadence will increase as society as we knew it continues to degenerate, and the worship of wealth and technology will remain the de facto religion of the global mass culture.

This sounds like a grim scenario, but I think it’s necessary to face up to reality if we seriously expect to do anything about it. There are positive trends occurring as well—the ongoing empowerment of women is an outstanding example—and hopefully these positive changes will have a cumulative, and transforming, effect.

For the present time, "full speed ahead and damn the consequences" remains the unspoken policy of the global ruling class. It remains to be seen if we can sufficiently change the destructive momentum of our species in time to avert the ecological catastrophes that await us if we don’t.


Radium Springs, NM, 1982

Brassiere in Mesquite

Tonuco, NM, 1982

The stories it could tell....

Monday, March 23, 2009

High-Quality Information

This reminds me of a certain blog I know:

"The only way to survive the current paralyzing mash of information, to escape the frozen circuits of its bogus factuality, is to seek out and insist upon high-quality information. What constitutes 'quality' is, undoubtedly, subjective, but it seems to me that high-quality information generally shares three characteristics: it is direct, it is deep, and it is durable... High-quality information strikes deeply in the psyche. There is a cellular thrill of recognition, a loop of delight, a sense of both completeness and opening. The recognition resonates in the subjective contours of our being, exciting the imagination. It is durable because it integrates other informations, thus complementing their powers (in the shaman’s sense of the word "power," not the politician’s). High-quality information is also durable because it invariably proves useful, whether it be in splitting posts, analytical hair-splitting, or splitting town. It is durable, moreover, because high-quality information tends to be shared when possible; it, like joy, seeks expression."

—James Dodge


From James Howard Kunstler’s "Clusterfuck Nation" update today:

Everything we’re doing right now is engineered to avoid reality, to sustain the
unsustainable, to recover the unrecoverable, when the mandate of reality compels
us to face our losses in order to move on to the next chapter of a collective
American life. The next chapter would be a society that runs on a much more
local and modest scale, centered on essential activities like growing food,
requiring harder physical work, and focused attention -- in other words, the
opposite of a society lost in abstractions, long-range daisy chains of off-loaded responsibility, and incessant pleasure-seeking.

Well glory be, he’s talking about the way I’ve been living since 1970! As the poet Gary Snyder put it, "Living from the sun and green of one spot." It’s a great way to live: very physical, but rewarding in its own way. Lots of heavy lifting: hay, dirt, rocks, lumber, fertilizer, firewood... anything liftable can and will be lifted. It’s the Zen "haul wood, carry water" – a way of being present, and open, and whole.

As I wrote 10 years ago in Earth Quarterly (a magazine Laura and I used to put out):

Sometimes when I’m feeling contemplative, this natural lifestyle (where birth and death are always close at hand) reminds me very much of Ecclesiastes. There is a depth, a gravity to that Book that I appreciate. It reminds me of real life. Consider some examples:

The generations pass; the Earth abides. The wind blows to the north, and then to the south. The sun rises, and the sun sets. The rivers run to the sea and yet the sea is not filled. Our spirits are restless — the eye is not satisfied with seeing, and the ear is not filled with hearing. The wise man has eyes to see, but the fool walks in darkness. Vainly we chase the wind. It is good to enjoy our food, our drink, and our work. We come from dust and return to dust. God has put eternity in our hearts. Life is a never-ending and fundamentally incomprehensible spiral of birth, death, love, hate, marriage, divorce, planting, harvesting, killing, healing, dancing, mourning, laughing, weeping, embracing, not embracing, casting away stones, gathering stones together.

There is a continuity, a connectedness, in all of that, which stands in stark contrast to the
superficiality of a mass culture in which our main task, other than to accumulate as much "stuff" as possible, is to remain thoroughly entertained at all times. It’s no wonder that so many people are feeling an unsatisfied soul hunger these days! I find strength in living what is in many ways an ancient way of life. I partake of age-old rituals — I plant the seed, and it sprouts, grows,
bears fruit, and feeds my family and myself. People have done this for millennia, and there is a rightness to it that I want to share.

Hopefully, I will be able to point the way to this older, deeper, mode of being. I do not claim to have any "answers." But I do have a lot of interesting information to share.


I irrigated my garden for the first time this year on Sunday. Because of building the Ark, I woefully neglected my winter garden, not irrigating it at all. But most of the plants survived, and should grow enthusiastically now that they've been weeded and watered.

If you look carefully, you can see water spraying out of the nozzles at the top of the vertical white pipes. I built the irrigation system this way so that the nozzles would be higher than tall plants such as corn and tomatoes.

Those are red wall-o-waters in the distance, and a green one in the foreground. They contain 5 Early Girl tomatoes (my favorite -- they're early (duh), large enough for slicing, don't crack, and tend to live all season unless they die first) and 2 Large Red Cherry (a backup for if the Early Girls die). Growing tomatoes has become more of a challenge in our area -- other gardeners are having trouble too. Tomato plants now tend to die during the middle of the summer rather than lasting until frost.

The wooden boxes are coldframes. I usually plant my spring garden around March 1 (I was late this year because of the Ark), and the young plants are subject to heavy freezes until early April. I use insulating foam to protect the plants from frost, and the wooden framework holds the foam up off the plants. Also, I've built wooden frames with screening on it to keep out the birds. Birds love succulent young seedlings, and can devastate a new planting in a remarkably short time.

Here's a close-up of a coldframe containing 9 broccoli plants. When mature, the plants will completely fill the coldframe. In the background is a coldframe with anti-bird screening on top of it. The broccoli coldframe is now covered with screening as well. Traditionally, we have lots of balmy weather in March, which used to delude me into planting my broccoli early, out in the open. Then, at the end of March, we would usually have a 20 degree freeze, which would either kill the plants outright, or permanently stunt them. So I developed this coldframe system to cope with living in a frost pocket. Gardeners in more benign locations don't have to go to so much trouble.

African Violet

Laura has become quite the African Violet fancier. (This officially makes her a Little Old Lady.) On Saturday I bought her an African Violet and slipped it onto our Farmer's Market table as a surprise. She liked it so much, she took a picture of it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I appreciated Jacques' comment with his "red rubber ball" imagery. I had never thought of it that way before, but Laura picked right up on it.

Writing is fundamentally a mysterious process, just like life itself. Where do the ideas come from? Is there more involved than just an overfermented brain telling the fingers what to do? It's remarkable that the words of a long-dead writer have the power to touch the heart of a reader today. It's as if the intervening years don't exist.

Some of my earlier stories were "given" to me more-or-less whole, with only minor editing needed. But these days, my aging "meat computer" is a more imperfect vehicle, and a lot of editing is usually called for.

Music is a good example of the illusory quality of many artistic endeavors. Consider the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album. It sounds like the band just sat down and played, but in actuality the album was painstakingly pieced together over a period of months. Some of my articles are like that -- I read them over dozens of times, and every time, without exception, I find ways to improve it. Maybe I substitute one word for another, or insert a connecting thought so things flow better. Or I edit stuff out. If I set the project aside for a day or a week, I can read it with fresh eyes and find new ways to improve it.

"Who" wrote it in the first place? "Who" is reading it? "Who" is improving it? Questions for the mystics among is to ponder. "I am a committee." These days I like to speak of "Gordon of the past" or "Gordon of the future."

As a scientist, I like to call the Muse an "automatic synthesis function" in the brain. That captures part of it, but I know there's much more involved than that. It's the Mystery manifesting itself.

See? That one flowed pretty well and I was just spewing with a minimum of editing. But sometimes the original flow is very spotty, and I've got to go back and work on it a lot. This tends to happen on a bad day. As Norman Mailer said, "You can tell you're a pro when you can write even on a bad day."

Yet Another Sunrise

Radium Springs, NM, 1986

I like the painterly quality of this one.

I Guess They Ran Out of White Paint

Somewheres in Texas, 1978

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Yesterday I finally had time to rototill the west 1/3 of my garden. First I made one pass over the garden with the tiller, and then Laura and I crumbled 3 bales of hay over the surface. This section of the garden is about 1000 square feet. This picture shows me tilling in the hay. I have to wear a respirator mask because of the tiller's exhaust fumes.

More tilling, with the Ark in the background. The upright white pipes are my irrigation sprayers.

Another view showing the Rio Grande in the background.

Almost done! After I was through tilling, I planted 7 tomato plants in wall-o-waters. I was only 5 days late with them -- I try to get them in the ground by March 15, and I usually harvest ripe tomatoes by June 1. I also planted broccoli, lettuce, and other spring plants in coldframes, about 3 weeks late. But I'll still get a good crop before the heat of summer.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wet Sand

A particularly tasty pattern.

"After the Annexation"

Gateway to Texas, 1978

There are people who say that Texas west of the Pecos should be part of New Mexico.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Frozen Mud

Radium Springs, NM, 1978

Rio Grande mud. Frozen mud cracks differently than dried mud.


Hill, NM, 1978

Have you ever known a family like this?


Last week, Jacques Conejo left this comment on the blog:

I think it would be interesting to have a little insight into the writing process that produced stories like "The Cards" and the stories about the "Bicyclists".

Saw/heard Salman Rushdie speak last night.... As a person enamoured of writing it was interesting to hear his views on writing and how it works in him...

Think you'd share a little bit (or a lot) on the process for you that produces your writing?

You've been writing a lot for a long time... What's your perspective on that experience? What would you urge or dissuade others to do or believe about the power of the written word?


First, I’d like to welcome Jacques back from his journey! He might have already left on his next one for all I know, so I hope this message reaches him somehow!

My writing process: In addition to having an entertaining mind that never runs out of things to say, one of my secrets is that I’m as good an editor as writer. The two processes are completely different: bringing it out of the "void" in the first place, and then honing it until the final product looks like I just sat down and effortlessly wrote a perfect first draft... which is an illusion, of course. Many writers lack the ability to edit their own work, which puts them at a disadvantage.

Perspective on writing: I’m glad I did it. Ultimately, I’m disappointed that such a fascinating spirit/muse got so little exposure. But how could it have been otherwise? My writing was a product of an era that was fading away even as we were living it. It’s a totally different world now: we are already living the first stages of the Apocalypse. Holistic viewpoints, including mine, were consistently marginalized, which was too bad for the planet. Late-empire global "civilization" was created by the most aggressive members of our species, which resulted in decades of wildly skewed behavior that has pushed our planet beyond the tipping point.

The power of the written word: These days, the written word has remarkably little power, except for the minority who still read in a serious way. We’re so overwhelmed with trivial and false information, spread across every high-tech communication channel, it’s easy to miss what’s really important. What power the written word once had as a medium of mass communication has been usurped by TV and the self-important morons that inhabit it. We are reverting to a pre-literate culture, in which intelligence and the play of concepts has an increasingly diminished role. These days, writing is essentially a minor form of entertainment. The Earth is being destroyed before our helpless eyes, and the true place of writing – and all human activities -- will soon be made manifest.

Maybe in a future post I’ll talk a little bit about my stories, most of which were written between 1973-88, a more benign era in some ways.

Keep those questions coming, Jacques!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What Is This?

Radium Springs, NM, 1978

I sure shot a lot of film in 1978. This is wind-blown foam on the Rio Grande. I called it "scum" the other day, but actually it's more like foam. Different day, different foam configuration.

"Leave my name in rusted tacks."

Rodey, NM, 1978

A homemade grave marker found lying on the ground at the Rodey cemetary. Most of the markers in this cemetary are made of wood or concrete, and don't last very long -- a few decades at most.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cracked Alakli Dirt

Radium Springs, NM, 1978

The cracks reveal the dirt beneath the alkali.

Kalanchoe Close-up

One of our house plants.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Study in Red and Blue

Radium Springs, NM, 1976

Red sumac leaves and New Mexiblue sky. Skunkbush sumac (Rhus triloba) is a common shrub in our area. Every fall the leaves turn vivid shades of orange and red.

Can you guess this one?

Radium Springs, NM, 1978

Wind-blown scum on the Rio Grande. This doesn't happen every year; in fact it's been a long time since I've seen this. Notice how some of the strands have been repeatedly twisted by the wind, and look like ropes -- a fascinating interplay of wind and water.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Moonrise Down the Rio Grande

Radium Springs, NM, 1977

The view from our front yard.

Fluff Grass

Radium Springs, NM, 1976

A million dewdrops sparkling in the sunlight.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Parabolic Sandbar

Radium Springs, NM, 1977

I liked the curve of this Rio Grande sandbar. And of course I caught the reflection of the sun in just the right spot.

Drowning in Niceness: The Lesson of Elizabeth Smart

This is probably my most famous essay. I wrote it five days after the invasion of Iraq, when we peaceniks were feeling pretty raw. It was posted on CounterPunch, and went viral across the Internet to some extent. I received an amazing number of comments, pro and con.

When Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home last June, she was taken to a camp only 3 miles from her home, from which she evidently made no attempt to escape. When she was apprehended 9 months later, she had taken a new name and a new identity. Her relatives say she was brainwashed by her kidnapper. I say it’s obvious that she was already brainwashed by the "nice" culture she grew up in, which allowed her to be easily controlled. She was already programmed to be a "good girl," to be nice to everybody, to get along, to obey authority. When she was kidnapped, her pre-existing programming merely transferred her loyalty to her new authority figure, the kidnapper.

Elizabeth Smart cannot be blamed in any way for her actions, since she did not make a conscious decision to obey her kidnapper, or to transfer her loyalty to him. If there is any blame to be cast, we need to look at the nature of the conventionally "nice," fundamentalist culture she grew up in.

There is a lot of security, and often a very comfortable living, to be had from following "the path most traveled." This path can be called "the lifestyle freeway" -- it’s a broad, easy highway (the path Jesus said leads to destruction, but that’s another essay). Everybody seems to be doing it, so why not you? It’s simple -- just follow the guidelines that have already been laid out for you to follow. There’s no need to invent anything, or make any difficult decisions. One merely has to accept the traditional religious beliefs (fundamentalist Christian), the traditional lifestyle (high impact consumer), and traditional politics (conservative, almost always Republican). At all times, get along. Be nice. Don’t make waves.

There is no need for overt coercion within this culture. Everybody is always so upbeat and friendly. Elizabeth Smart’s programming boiled down to, "be a good girl." This meant always being polite, always being helpful, and always doing what you are told. Of course, everybody is always very polite whenever they ask you to do anything. And when you do it, they say "Thank you; you are a good girl." It’s easy to feel secure and well-loved within this insular little world.

There is no room for doubt or skepticism here. Life is good, and a good life is guaranteed for all who truly believe. There will always be plenty to eat, nice clothes, a safe bed to sleep in, good friends at school and church, the friendly neighborhood policeman to lock up criminals. Jesus died for our sins, so the afterlife is already taken care of. What a blessing our life is. America is the best of all possible worlds -- isn't America nice, and aren’t we Americans nice people.

Some children, upon reaching adolescence, rebel against their childhood programming. When this happens, the coercion of the "nice culture" becomes explicit. If children refuse to behave, then they will be argued with, and pressured to conform. Those who persist in their rebellion become the prodigals, the black sheep. Every family seems to have a black sheep or two. Often, these black sheep seem to have traded a certain amount of conventional happiness for a certain amount of authenticity. Many peaceniks are black sheep.

When the children who didn’t reject their programming become parents, they automatically replicate their programming with the next generation, and so the cycle continues -- an entire culture of "nice" people who profess the expected dogma, follow the expected leaders, and tune out whatever external events make them feel uncomfortable.

Consider the "pro-life" "Christians for war." Whenever I remind them of all those poor, unborn fetuses destroyed by Bush’s "shock and awe" massacre, they go into disconnect mode. George W. Bush would never destroy fetuses, therefore fetuses are not being destroyed (along with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, preteens, adolescents, young adults, adults in their prime, older adults, the elderly, and those on their deathbeds who would have died soon anyway). Nice Americans don’t want to think about all those fetuses being denied their right to life by George W. Bush. He is, after all, our president, and he would never do anything like that.

This ability to disconnect at the slightest provocation is what makes nice Americans so dangerous, because this allows our government to get away with any outrage. Our planes bombed a wedding party? Never heard about it. Our country supports ruthless dictators except when they control vast amounts of oil? I never read that anywhere. The entire world opposes Bush’s massacre? That’s not what CNN says.

Needless to say, this conventional culture of nice Americans is what the peace movement has been up against all along. I don’t know about where you live, but in my little city, it has been very difficult to get anybody to wake up to the extent of actually doing anything. Making a very generous estimate, maybe 1% of the population (750 out of 75,000) has participated in local peace activities. Hopefully, more than that have contacted their "representatives," but who’s to know? I am going through life feeling like I’ve got not just an albatross hanging around my neck, but 10 very nice Americans as well, pulling me back and dragging me down.

I’m not sure what to do about all these nice, suffocating Americans I’m surrounded with. There’s just no reasoning with them. If I could emigrate to another planet, I would have done so 30 years ago. I feel trapped. America is strangling me. Nice Americans think they’re immortal; they think Jesus will rescue them soon; I think they’re deluded. They think "One Nation Under God" is just dandy as long as they get to define what "God" is; I think they’re theocratic fascists. I try to keep a positive attitude for pragmatic purposes. No sense further demoralizing people -- including myself -- who are half scared to death already. I try to remember the words of French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, "One does not have the right to be discouraged." I try to remember my own words, "Never back down, and never shut up." I bootstrap myself into thinking that hopefully somehow, surely somehow, we will tough our way through this and will emerge victorious. But in the meantime I feel like I’m drowning in niceness that’s really not very nice at all, is it?

Turning back to Elizabeth Smart, people are speculating, "did she or didn’t she?" Well, of course she did. She had no choice. She was his "wife," wasn’t she? But you know what? No matter how "nice" he may have been to her, and no matter how thoroughly she bought into his reality, it was still rape. Coercion is coercion. Surely there is a lesson here for Americans regarding the Bush administration’s relationship with the rest of the world, especially when you consider that our government doesn’t even make the pretense of being nice anymore.

March 25, 2003

Friday, March 13, 2009

Yin Yang Sun

Dona Ana Mountains, NM, 1973

Today's News

Bisbee, AZ, 1978

Scribbled on a wall by a street poet. What a fine poem this is; folk art at its finest.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Snow-covered Rocks

Radium Springs, NM, 1980

Actually, I shouldn't tell what these pattern pictures are. I should let people guess first.

Kingston Door

Kingston, NM, 2008

We spied this excellent example of folk art in Kingston last summer.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

We've Moved In!

We spent our first night in our Ark last night. By some coincidence, it was also the night of Full Moon. The interior is done except for some minor trim painting and adding a tasty blend of jewel-like carpets which we don't have yet. I was thinking last night of the millions of separate tasks that went into building it. Driving a single nail, for example, involves picking up the hammer, picking up the nail, putting the nail in position, and driving it in with a number of hammer blows. That's at least a dozen separate tasks right there, and that's just one nail out of thousands. At any rate, I'll post some pictures after the exterior is completely finished.

Bisbee Folk Art

Bisbee, AZ, 1976

This colorful little guy is a classic primitive design, and would occupy an honored place in any folk art collection. The shadow in the corner adds a perfect compositional touch.

Bisbee, AZ, 1978
A real-life art drama: The Bisbee Street Poet wrote his/her poem and signed it with his/her hand; then "The Splatterer" added his/her contribution.

Bisbee, AZ, 1977
What a splendid way to commemorate young love!