Saturday, October 31, 2009


On Valley Drive north of Las Cruces.  These people do this every Halloween.

Season of the Witch

Once every seven years, Halloween falls on Saturday.  Here, Laura engages in dress-up fun at Farmer's Market.  Would you buy honey from this witch? 

A Country Scene

This is the main irrigation canal that feeds the Rio Grande Valley north of Socorro.  I think that's Polvadera Mountain in the distance.  The cottonwoods are just starting to turn yellow.  I've driven past this area dozens of times on the Interstate, and finally had the time to spend a couple of hours poking around this area.  I had expected small Hispanic-type farms, but what I found was commercial alfalfa farms with huge open sheds filled with hay.

Friday, October 30, 2009


We've had our first hard freeze, which means that winter has officially arrived.  Our first freeze was Tuesday morning, 30 degrees.  This caused little damage, nipping the sweet potato leaves slightly.

Our first hard freeze was yesterday morning, 26 degrees.  I covered the tomatoes and peppers with blankets to protect them.  It looked like they got slightly nipped, but without the blankets they would have been totally killed.

This morning it's 21 degrees, which is more of a midwinter temperature.  I think the tomatoes and peppers are goners.  Later this morning we'll remove the blankets, pick the remaining fruits, chop them up with our Chop Wizard, and freeze them in pint tubs. 

October 29 is a typical time for our first hard freeze, which in our spot can occur anywhere from the middle of October to the middle of November.  I've been writing the freeze date on my calendar for years; someday I'll have to go through my pile of calendars and tabulate the results. 

Owl Cigar Sign

This faded sign has been on the side of this building in downtown Socorro for as long as I can remember.  Which means for the past 45 years or so.  Why hasn't the paint faded away in all this time?  Is my memory faulty?  Do they touch it up from time to time to maintain the proper level of fadedness? 

Thursday, October 29, 2009


This is the largest tornillo tree I have ever seen.  It's growing in somebody's front yard in Truth or Consequences.  The trunk must be 2 feet in diameter.  Notice the typically shaggy bark.  It would be fascinating to take a tree-ring core and see how old it is.  As you can see, somebody topped the trunk years ago, and forced the tree into a more spread-out configuration.  Tornillo leaves are small, and cast a filtered shade.

The screwbean is a close relative of the more common mesquite, and grows only on the floodplain near the Rio Grande where it can get plenty of water.  The tornillo produces clusters of tightly-coiled pods, thus its English name, "screwbean."  (Tornillo is Spanish for "screw.")  These pods are highly nutritious, and greatly favored by wildlife during the winter.  When I first moved to my Radium Springs homestead, I waded across the river almost every day and gathered a bag of tornillo pods to feed my goats.  If I lived near T or C and kept goats, I would offer to rake these peoples' yard for free, in exchange for the pods.  Their yard is covered with pods.  For this reason, many people would consider the tornillo a "messy" or "trashy" tree.  But the tornillo is actually a valuable producer of pods in the winter, and honey in the summer when it blooms.    

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Window Wall

I love vernacular architecture -- it's the kind of stuff I build.  In this case, the builder had a bunch of windows and decided to build a south-facing "window wall" for solar heat gain.  Form follows function.  This house is located near Lemitar, north of Socorro.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thought for Today

"I look around at my fellow baby-boomer ex-hippie, ex-political radical age-cohorts and I see a sad-ass claque of passive, played-out, defeated dreamers too depressed to form a coherent thought about what's really going on."
-- James Howard Kunstler

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pros and Cons of the Ecopeasant Lifestyle

It’s obvious that the economy will eventually have to be redefined. The entire concept of money has been so degraded, the current currencies will have to be discarded. One thing we can know with absolute certainty: after the “redefinition” the common people will have become serfs, while the plutocrats will be the new feudal aristocracy. So much for that democracy nonsense!

My strategy for the past 40 years has been to become what I call an “ecopeasant.” Keep a low profile, be as self-contained as possible, and depend on the Earth – not the economy – for my livelihood. This doesn’t mean I’ve been any good at it, but at least my attention has been concentrated in this direction for all these years. I’ve continually asked myself the question, “If I could spend all the money I need to on infrastructure, would it be possible to ‘get out from under?’” I still don’t have a definitive answer, but I’ve certainly learned a few basic realities about self-sufficiency. Ideally, one would be self-sufficient in the basic necessities of life – shelter, food, warmth, clothing, etc. Let’s break this down and see where it leads us.

Starting at the beginning: The nomadic option is always possible, but in our modern world, nomads are entirely dependent on money. Once those monthly checks stop coming, then what? Non-nomads are faced with the same question: If one chooses to remain in one spot, what’s going to happen once those monthly checks stop coming? Will the rabble band together and repudiate all mortgage debt, or will they allow themselves to be picked off one by one, as they are now doing? There’s no way to know for sure. The only sure bet is to own one’s abode free and clear, in which case your only required expense is the annual property tax. An annual property tax payment will be a lot less than 12 monthly mortgage or rent payments. And, post-crash, free-and-clear property owners will find themselves part of the de facto aristocracy, imagine that!

Shelter means a house. A house, to truly be considered a shelter, must keep out the wind (walls) and rain (roof). This means caulking all doors and windows, installing insulated double-glass windows wherever possible, and in general optimizing one’s shelter to withstand the elements. A hailproof steel roof is always advisable as the weather becomes more extreme.

Probably the easiest improvement beyond that is solar heat. It’s easy to heat both air and water with no fossil fuel inputs. The fact that mainstream America has been so resistant to this obvious concept for the past 40 years is evidence of its decadence and downright stupidity. Fortunately, it is easy to construct solar heaters for your home using only basic carpentry skills, as long as your house has a southern exposure. A solar water heater requires only basic plumbing skills as well as carpentry.

In many parts of the country, property owners have access to trees that can be harvested for firewood. My understanding is that such a short-term cycle (trees to CO2 back to trees) doesn’t impact the climate in the same way that dredging all that buried carbon (coal and oil) out of the ground and burning it. If one’s woodlot is sequestering more carbon each year – through tree growth – than one is releasing through burning firewood, then one can remain carbon-neutral. An airtight heater that will hold a fire all night long is an excellent investment for anybody with access to firewood. The firewood option doesn’t work too well in cities, though. Too many people burning wood in too small an area wreaks havoc on air quality.

Turning to food: Many people blithely speak about feeding themselves out of their gardens. People who say this have obviously never tried food self-sufficiency. Sure, a garden is an excellent source of high-quality vegetables, and eating a lot of vegetables will add measurably to your health. But most people need to eat some protein as well. Animals have always been a favored source of protein. Plants sources have traditionally been grains, legumes, and seeds, all of which require a lot of space, and a lot of work to produce.

I lived in the Ozarks in the early 70s. (Sobering thought: that was closer to the Great Depression than to today.) Many old-time Depression survivors were still living there. You could always tell them because they had huge gardens, obviously plowed with a tractor every spring. They canned enormous amounts of food every summer. They had animals as well – a flock of chickens, and maybe a milk cow, and a pig to eat the garbage. These people worked very hard for their food, and their children, for the most part, got jobs in town and shopped at the supermarket.

In the future, as oil gets scarcer, agriculture will be forced to focus more on human food than animal food, and the human food of choice will be grains, legumes, and seeds. Vegetables are more effectively grown right at home.

In the future there will no longer be a “steady state” reality that humans can adapt to. There will be no more stable platform underfoot. The sand will be continually shifting. Temperatures will be rising, sea levels will be rising, glaciers and snowpacks will disappear, there will be far less protein from the oceans (until people learn how to eat jellyfish). There will be much more social unrest than we’ve become used to. Instability will become the new norm.

As owner/operator of an ecopeasant microfarm since 1970, I can say that the most obvious advantages are:

* No rent or mortgage, only that annual property tax payment.
* Unlimited firewood.
* The health benefits of eating out of a garden.
* Intangible factors such as a close relationship with stars, weather, garden, orchard, wildlife, the cycles of the seasons.

Transportation has to be the major disadvantage. No matter how hard I rack my brain, no solution presents itself. For long-distance travel (in my case, 20 miles each way) when I’m frequently hauling large loads (hundreds of pounds every week to Farmer’s Market, for starters), there’s no alternative to the automobile and its bastard cousin, the pickup truck.

I’m good for about 1000 words at a session. These aren’t finished essays, just thinking out loud. But it’s good writing practice. Let’s wrap this up:

Fundamentally, there’s no gentle solution to our human predicament. There are way too many people, and the developed world – America in particular – produces way too much pollution. Here’s the “New Earth” we can expect: no polar caps, no rainforests, oceans acid and dead, poison everywhere. I suspect that the ecopeasant lifestyle – or any other alternative – will be temporary at best. Ultimately, I live this way because I enjoy it. Obviously the great mass of Americans are going to ride the Titanic until they’re dumped into the sea and are forced to swim, in which case many of them will drown. The time to be promoting “alternatives” was the 70s, when it could have made a difference, and when many young people were eager to try something different. “Living in harmony with the Earth and each other” is still a great concept, however, and I continue to write about it because it’s such a pleasant indulgence.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thoughts for Today

"I've infiltrated the universe."

"There's more than one universe."
-- Judy Harmon

Laura took this picture of Judy last November.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Predicting the Economy

First, a couple of quotes to set the tone:

From Paul Farrell at Marketwatch:

America has lost its soul and collapse is inevitable.

Get it? The engine driving the great "American Economic Empire" for 233 years will collapse, a total disaster, a destiny we created.

"Wall Street America" went over to the dark side, got mega-greedy and took control of "Washington America." Their spoils of war included bailouts, bankruptcies, stimulus, nationalizations and $23.7 trillion new debt off-loaded to the Treasury, Fed and American people. Who's in power? Irrelevant. The "happy conspiracy" controls both parties, writes the laws to suit its needs, with absolute control of America's fiscal and monetary policies.

From Ilargi at Automatic Earth:

The free market system has failed America miserably.

And it's not all that hard either to see why that is. If you let market participants free to pursue what is in their best interests, without forcing them to give priority to society's best interests, they will eventually figure out that the best single investment they can possible make is to buy the government. That allows them to make the laws. Which is detrimental to the rest of society, and leads to the sort of mess we're in right now.

The economic system we have is broken beyond repair. For those still in doubt, imagine another $50-$100 trillion in debt that needs to be serviced. The system can't do it, it can't even handle what's there now without fraudulent accounting and robbing the taxpayers of their future revenues.

If you can't keep corporations out of the government, disaster is assured for everyone but the corporations. No return comes close to buying political power. In the present American situation, there is no party that benefits from a larger government as much as corporations do. After all, they control the government.

Our economic, financial, capital, and credit system is done and gone. What you're looking at today is a corpse propped-up by the promise of future tax revenues from millions upon rapidly increasing millions of homeless and jobless Americans.

Unfortunately, that's just the beginning. Because the financial system has been allowed to infiltrate the political system to the degree in which it has (a full-scale take-over), America's political system is as bankrupt as its financial system is. It will take a long and hard time to replace.

James Howard Kunstler says much the same thing.

I'm amazed that the whole house of cards is still standing, but then again, the mass delusion hasn’t been punctured yet. My own prediction is: sooner or later, in God's own good time, the entire global economy will collapse to the point that money as we now know it will no longer have any value. The entire global economic system will have to be redefined from scratch, and this will be a slow and painful process. “Slow and painful” means, among other things, that the monthly check will no longer be coming in the mail. I’m really sorry about the pension you worked so hard for.

Stuff, however, will still have value, and barter will become very popular. This is why I always say, "Stuff is more valuable then money." But it's got to be the right stuff. Stuff you can really use -- food, tools, building materials, guns and ammunition, fruit and nut trees, livestock, irrigation systems, a good house that keeps out the wind and keeps you dry when it rains. Digital doodads and cars will lose most if not all of their value.

One intangible factor is: How fast will this happen? If it happens too fast for people to adapt to, then chaos will reign supreme, and all bets are off. If it happens over a period of at least a year or two (and ideally more), people will have a chance to transition to the new reality, and chaos would be less than it would be otherwise.

We're always fighting the last war. It's difficult to anticipate an unknown future, no matter how much we think we know. In this case, the “last war” is the Great Depression of the 1930s. But back then the population was much less, people still had a work ethic and farming skills, and most of the oil was still in the ground. The coming crash will be much more profound because the entire global economy will have to be redefined from the bottom up. People will have to figure out the value of everything all over again. How much is a pound of honey worth? How much is an hour of your labor worth? There will be some hard bargains to be made.

Like everybody else, all I can do is fight the last war. I’m still not quite there yet, but I’m doing the best I can to prepare for the worst 30s-type Depression I can conceive of, even though I know that whatever I do will never be enough.

I’m not surprised by the paralysis I see out there. In fact, it’s exactly what one would expect from a civilization going down the tubes. Americans, from Obama on down, have no Plan B. “Surely the Happyland Express will start running again? Maybe they had a minor breakdown and will be back on schedule soon?” I think not. But I’m just a blogger sitting here in my bathrobe and nothing else. Like every other writer, I write because I like the sound of my own voice. Who’s to say who’s right? Only time will tell. And by the time time has told its tale, nobody will particularly care what we’re saying back here in 2009. They’ll have their own problems to think about.


Neil snapped this picture of an owl in the Gerald Thomas parking lot on the NMSU campus. 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Delusion Level Increasing

Adapted from the Associated Press article:

Just 57 percent of Americans think there is solid evidence the world is getting warmer, down from 77 percent since 2006, a Pew poll says. And the share of people who believe pollution caused by humans is causing temperatures to rise has also taken a dip. The number of people who see the situation as a serious problem also has declined. The steepest drop has occurred during the past year.

Only about a third, or 36 percent of the respondents, feel that human activities — such as pollution from power plants, factories and automobiles — are behind a temperature increase. That's down from 47 percent in 2006.

Andrew Weaver, a professor of climate analysis at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said politics could be drowning out scientific awareness.

"It's a combination of poor communication by scientists, a lousy summer in the Eastern United States, people mixing up weather and climate and a full-court press by public relations firms and lobby groups trying to instill a sense of uncertainty and confusion in the public," he said.

Political breakdowns in the survey underscore how tough it could be to enact a law limiting pollution emissions blamed for warming. Three-quarters of Democrats believe the evidence of a warming planet is solid, and nearly half believe the problem is serious. On the other hand, 57 percent of Republicans say there is no solid evidence of global warming, up from 31 percent in early 2007.

The vast majority of scientists agree that global warming is occurring and that the primary cause is a buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal.

Regional as well as political differences were detected in the polling.People living in the Midwest and mountainous areas of the West are far less likely to view global warming as a serious problem and to support limits on greenhouse gases than those in the Northeast and on the West Coast.

Back From the Land

Like millions of others, Eleanor Agnew went “back to the land” in the 1970s, and like millions of others, she eventually returned. (Her husband, soon to become her ex-husband, remained.) In 2003 she wrote a book about the 70s back-to-the-land phenomenon, entitled Back From the Land. Her book is a fascinating compendium of stories from young Americans who tried the “homestead adventure.”

Communes were common back then, but most of the back-to-the-landers were young couples setting off on their own. During the peak of the movement in the mid-70s, they could locate just about anywhere and find other like-minded couples and groups to associate with. But living on the land proved to be a hard slog, and most back-to-the-landers didn’t stay for long.

Typically, a young couple would find themselves working nowhere jobs in the city. The money might be good, but they felt unfulfilled. A mass vibration was in the air: move back to the land, live in harmony with the Earth, form communities of one type or another, develop a new culture – a counterculture – that would provide an antidote to the warmongering, Earth-destroying madness of the mainstream Megamachine.

We know how that one turned out, don’t we? But back then, the future seemed bright with promise. Anything seemed possible.

So the young people would work a few more months, or another year or two, save as much money as possible, and move back to the land. If they moved back during the summer, they had a magical introduction to country life at its best, especially if they had a good stash of marijuana to keep them in the mellow zone. Planting a garden, building a house, herding some goats, having potlucks with whatever like-minded neighbors were to be found, life was good.

Come winter, however, things turned grim, especially in cold climates like Maine or upstate New York. Their handmade log cabin was uninsulated, and it leaked. Their wood stove was inadequate. They were running out of firewood and it’s only January. Worse, they were running out of money and had to find a minimum-wage job in the nearest small city 40 miles away. Their car wouldn’t start on cold winter mornings. They got the flu at the same time and spent a week in bed, cold and miserable. Their parents thought they were crazy, and told them so in every letter.

In most cases sooner rather than later, the young couple either split up and returned to the city separately, or stayed together and returned to the city together. But it was a no-brainer: go back to school, finish that degree, get a good job with benefits. Just like their parents. That’s why it’s called the Freeway Path – because so many people are taking it. It’s “The Path Most Traveled.” The Goat Path, on the other hand, often you can’t even tell if there’s a path. You might very well find yourself lost and alone out there in the wilderness. So it’s no wonder that the Freeway Path was so popular, with its gentle grades, rest stops, and helpful signs pointing the way.

Agnew was one of the back-to-the-landers who left, so her perspective is understandably skewed to the 90% or more who didn’t stay. But what about the ones who stayed? Now there would be a book worth reading! How did they manage to carve out a niche on the land when the entire mainstream zeitgeist hurricane was howling in exactly the opposite direction? Do they have anything to tell us?

For one thing, those who stayed managed to create a gig for themselves. In northern California, for example, many of the 70s back-to-the-landers became marijuana farmers. Over time they created a curious hybrid culture – stoned and alternative on one hand, prosperous and mainstream on the other. Another common gig was to become artists or craftspeople – spend the winter and spring making items to sell, then hit the Renaissance Faire circuit during the summer and fall. Another way was to utilize one’s university degree and get a job in the nearest town while still living on the land.

In most cases, the countryside became suburbia – the homestead became a bedroom with a pretty view. The original goal – to live as independently of the mainstream as possible – was quickly lost.

I’m interested in the ones who not only stayed, but managed to create a sustainable lifestyle for themselves and for the planet. These people would be hard to locate, because they would – almost by definition – keep a low profile. But it would be fascinating to interview a few dozen sustainably long-term residents of the countryside and see what they have to say.

In my own case, I really had no choice. I went back to the mainstream briefly (for five months) in 1971, and was so miserable I would rather starve on the land than make good money in the city. (We never did starve, but we were down to white flour frybreads and greens for awhile there.) I just lucked out. I ended up just the right distance (not too close, not too far) from the second-largest city in New Mexico, in an area that provided a lot of bee forage – mesquite, cotton, alfalfa, saltcedar, wildflowers. So not only could I produce honey, I could easily sell it. The rest is history. I’m far more middle-class then I would prefer. My life, as far as the Earth is concerned, is unsustainable. Yet I have always asked myself, “What if I could build all the infrastructure I needed – garden, orchard, irrigation system, water catchments, etc. – would I ever be able to live sustainably? Really and truly sustainably?” The answer seems to be: “Perhaps, but nobody else will. And if nobody else does, I’m still screwed.”

It’s a shame the Pied Piper of Dirt gig never worked out for me. That’s the career I really wanted all along: Live sustainably, write about it, hopefully inspire others to do their own version of it. Lord knows I tried for 30 years. I promoted the hell out of the back-to-the-land trip in my own small way. But the Megamachine was too powerful, and my voice was too feeble, to change the trajectory of the mass culture. (If a bird is singing in a tree next to a busy freeway, what do you hear?) So these days I write for the hell of it, because I enjoy it, and occasionally somebody tells me that they like it. But it’s a pity things didn’t turn out like we hoped they would. It’s a shame the back-to-the landers gave up so easily, but then again, they really had no choice.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Our Deluxe New Coldframe

In late summer I built a coldframe onto the bottom of the Ark.  It's 10 feet long and 2 feet wide, filled with a concoction consisting of commercial "garden soil," "peat humus," cow manure, and real dirt.  I mixed multiple loads of this mixture in a wheelbarrow, and shoveled it into the coldframe by hand.  There's nothing like a little exercise to get the heart pumping.

The long wall faces southeast, and is covered with a double layer of translucent "Crystalite" fiberglass to let in the sun.  The bottom is covered with 1/2" "barn siding," and filled with fiberglass insulation to keep the dirt as warm as possible at night.  The inside of the "dirt basin" is lined with Crystalite fiberglass sealed with silicone caulk, which will presumably keep moisture out of the wooden coldframe structure.

On the right side of the picture is "Laura's ladder" leading to the deck.  We'll be up there by the end of this post.  But first, let's stroll over to the steps for another angle on the coldframe:

This is the view from the steps.  The near wall gets a lot of afternoon sun, so I sheathed it with fibeglass to let in the light.  The far wall is aimed northeast and gets no winter sun, so I sheathed it with barn siding and filled
the space between the 2x4s with fiberglass insulation.

Looking down from the deck.  From top:  potato, mizuna, kale, collards, mustard.  These were planted several weeks later than my coldframes out in the garden, so they have some catching up to do.  Some time before heavy frost I'll be adding an insulated, hinged lid to keep out the cold night air.  It should take but a few seconds to open it in the morning and close it in the evening. 

Hopefully the concept of year-round gardening will catch on, especially in our climate.  The main principle is to protect the plants from heavy frost at night.  This can be elegantly elaborate, as I have done here, or as simple as throwing a blanket over your plants at night.  Either way, winter is prime time for growing greens and root vegetables of all kinds.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

2009 Monsoon

I finally added up our rainfall for the 2009 monsoon.  Here's what it looks like:

June  0
July   1.92
Aug   1.24
Sep   0.94

TOTAL  4.10 inches

Once again, another dry monsoon.  Since 2000 we've had 2 extremely wet monsoons, 2 average, and 6 dry.  It looks like dry is becoming the new "average."

If we select only the past five years, we get:

05     3.12
06   11.90
07     4.32
08   13.25
09     4.10

Clearly, we've been alternating between wet and dry moonsoons.  Thus, we can confidently predict that next year will be a wet monsoon.  Just kidding.  You can't predict the future from past behavior.  If this were possible, everybody playing the stock market would be a millionaire.  Actually there would no longer be a stock market if everybody knew the future, because it would be like laying odds that the sun is going to rise tomorrow.

Putting this year in perspective, it was the 5th driest summer since I started keeping records in 1983.  Drier monsoons have totaled 2.83, 3.11, 3.12, and 3.53 inches.  So this summer was very dry, but not a record-breaker.  (Though the difference between 2.83 inches and 4.10 inches is about 15 minutes of heavy rain.)

More Coldframe Excitement

Feel the excitement!  You can almost watch these plants grow.  Laura and I are each having a smoothie a day.  Actually, Laura has at least two, which is why she's more beautiful than I am.  My smoothie consists of tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, and a big handful of these tender, succulent greens -- kale, collards, beets, spinach.  Surprisingly, the leaf lettuce is doing the worst of any of them this year. 

Time to add the extension collars!  This sideways view shows that the greens are already twice as tall as the coldframes, which will make it difficult to cover them on cold winter nights.  Several years ago I built 2x6 extension collars that sit on top of the 2x12 coldframes to add extra height, but this year it looks like I'll need more than that. 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

White Guys in Suits

I’ve been on a nostalgia kick lately. I’ve never been one to live in the past, which is why I always have my projects to carry me forward. But lately there’s been this NMSU grad student who’s doing his master’s thesis on the 60s “unrest” at NMSU, of which I was a key player. So he’s been asking me questions, and my brain has been stimulated to think about that era and its aftermath.

You know me: I like to immediately jump to whatever conclusion I’m capable of jumping to. In this case, the conclusion is this: the white guys in suits won. The 60s were just an asterisk, if that. We’re about to enter a time in which the 60s will be forgotten. I’m sorry if I’m disabusing anybody from their final shred of hope here, but facts are facts. There was never any doubt all along about who would win.

Americans have always been so easy, thinking they’re free and all. They are so easy to control. All one has to do is muddy the waters, keep the fear level up, divide and conquer, and Americans (for the most part) will believe whatever they’re told by their authority figures. Who just happen to be – surprise! – white guys in suits. As for the ones who see through the lies? So what? Exactly what are they going to do about it? Rise up or something? Don’t make me laugh.

Or, make me laugh! Why not? Ha ha!

As you may have noticed, the white guys in suits have been consolidating their power during the past 30 years. It began with Reagan, who cut taxes on the wealthy (who happen to be white guys in suits), and got rid of those pesky regulations on corporations (which are run by white guys in suits). As you also may have noticed, that really was a coup d’etat in 2000. The aftermath from that one will probably last forever. The Bush Administration’s parting gift was the “financial crisis of 2008” which allowed them to use the shock doctrine to start draining the remaining loot from the Treasury. (This will take awhile because the Federal Reserve (which runs the Treasury Dept.) can always create an unlimited supply of new money, as if by magic!) I use ironic quotes around “financial crisis” because, seriously, who told us that the economy was only microseconds from collapse unless heroic measures were taken? Oh, that’s right: white guys in suits!

Now, we have definitive information that the global climate is mere decades away from an irreversible tipping point. (Actually, we are already beyond the tipping point, but we’re still within the final days of the “era of stability” in which our species evolved.) What are now trends will soon become the new reality, and we will find that our species programming is even more pitifully inadequate than it already is. And who was it who sowed doubt and confusion about global warming during the critical 70s and 80s and 90s, and who are still doing it today? You know who!

What if we had won, and not the white guys in suits? What if? It never hurts to fantasize, does it? What if we had actually created a counterculture strong enough to withstand the insane mainstream culture? For one thing, “sustainability” would now be more than a punchline. Energy use would be much less. Pollution would be much less. Recycling would be the rule. Landfills would be much smaller. People would sing and dance a lot more. Let me dig into the archives and find just the right quote from myself:

“This country needs a radically new commitment to the concept of wise government. Our corrupt, winner-take-all, lowest-common-denominator political system is simply not working, and needs to be replaced. We desperately need some wisdom from our “leaders,” not more sleaze. A few starter programs for a wise government would include a new emphasis on alternative energy production, energy conservation, population control, and holistic health care. These programs would save billions of dollars every year in the long run, and in the short run they could be subsidized by diverting funds from the more ridiculous military weapons programs and other forms of corporate welfare.

“On an individual level, we need more gardens and orchards, a more natural diet (that’s what gardens and orchards are for!), more exercise, less television, more fresh air, less toxic exhaust fumes, more bird songs, less traffic, more bicycle paths, more solar energy, more stars, more silence, more time to recollect ourselves, and more interpersonal sharing that goes beyond the bright superficial chatter typical of today’s shallow mega-culture. We need less manufactured soul-shriveling “entertainment” and more of the primal community-building boogie that is our sacred God-given birthright -- making music, singing, dancing, drumming. Making a joyful noise. Shelling peas together. Digging dirt. Smelling roses. Walking in the forest or the desert. Picking apples. Pulling weeds. Fulfilling our true needs.”

I wrote that in 1997. How did it turn out? Is 12 years enough to tell? Do we need more time to make a final determination? As you can see, this country – as always – has been running at full speed in exactly the wrong direction all these years. Why? Because the white guys in suits determine the trajectory, not idealistic bloggers sitting at their keyboards in the predawn hours.

Dawn! There’s that word again! The word that triggers what’s now known as “the final paragraph” when I slowly insert myself back into the workaday world!

I find it useful to face up to reality and dispense with false hope. There’s something to be learned from all this. Something about death, and acceptance. Something that ties in to Matthew 6:19-21: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” “Heaven” is right here, right now, not in some imagined “place” you “go to” after you die.

Yes, I want to write my opus, which will probably be 100 words long, and sum it all up: birth, death, meaning, chaos, whatever. Till then, I’ll just meander along here, like a slug in a garden, leaving a slime trail for you to follow.

Friday, October 16, 2009

River Off

Here's the view from my orchard, looking across the river to North Hill.

They turned the river off yesterday, marking the end of another irrigation season.  The sandbars are exposed for another winter.  The river level will continue to drop gradually for another few weeks.  Then it will stabilize to its winter level.  The river runs year-round here.

This was an unusual irrigation season.  The Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID, as everybody calls it) used up the last of its allotment in early September, but the El Paso Irrigation District farther downstream kept on irrigating until yesterday.  This meant that we had water in the river until yesterday, which is a typical time to end the irrigation season.

Everybody is hoping for a decent snowpack this winter.  Most of the water in the Rio Grande originally falls as snow in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado.  It's an elegant system -- the snow accumulates all winter long.  Then it rapidly melts in late spring, and the water that flows down the Rio Grande is stored in a series of lakes.  This will all come to an end as global heating continues.  Much of the winter precipitation will then fall as rain, much of which will soak into the ground.  Much of the diminished runoff will also soak into the ground.  Much less water will make it to the lakes, and more of the stored water will evaporate because of the hotter climate.  Talk about a relentless cascade of negative feedback loops.  But until then, it's business as usual. 

We're living year-to-year now; even huge snowpacks only provide water for two years.  It's been a long time since we've had a series of heavy snowpacks capable of filling the lakes to the brim.  Since the mid-90s, as I recall.  They say our perpetual drought is permanent, and will get worse.  Except for occasional monsoon flooding, of course.

In late October I'll be celebrating my 36th anniversary living here next to the river.  In 1973, my head full of glorious incandescent dreams, I drove a U-Haul truck from our first homestead in Missouri, the truck full of our belongings as well as 5 goats, 12 chickens, and a couple of rabbits.  What a menagerie we were.  Except for occasional flooding and annual outbreaks of mosquitoes, it's been a wonderful place to live.  I've gotten rather attached to it over the years. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Laura and Sheila on their Trans-Reality Hyperspace Relay Vehicle.  To ordinary eyes it looks like a pile of hay bales, but to them, it's an Intergalactic Non-Euclidian Spacetime-Manifold Matrix-Shifting Starship. 

Thought for Today

The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.
 -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I’m sitting here with several blog posts trying to get out at once. Open up, sphincter, here they come!

One post is a review of Eleanor Agnew’s Back from the Land: How young Americans went to nature in the 1970s, and why they came back.

Another one is called “Kali and the May Queen.” It’s about how, when presented with a pair of opposites, humans try to choose one over the other without realizing they are actually two sides of the same coin.

But the one that wants to come out first is about zeitgeist, “the spirit of the times,” and how for all practical purposes zeitgeist is a living entity. Just like the Earth, for all practical purposes is a living entity. Maybe not “living” in the same sense as a plant or animal, but still... sharing enough characteristics of life to give one pause. These things are actually alive in some way? What does that imply?

Way back when, 45 years ago, at the peak of American prosperity and post-World War 2 optimism, there was a zeitgeist burst in San Francisco that we still talk about today. This burst gave birth to the hippies, and contributed heavy impetus to the back-to-the-land movement and the environmental movement. There were other, later, epicenters – any major college town in America, for example – anyplace where there was a critical mass of young people searching for a better way. Or at least, searching for a better way to get high.

But the big kahuna of them all was San Francisco, and it was over almost before it happened. But like a supernova that briefly outshines an entire galaxy, we are still studying the aftermath.

Hunter S. Thompson eloquently described this zeitgeist spasm in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which he wrote in 1971. I’ve edited it down to its essence here. The full version is available by googling “hunter thompson + wave.”

San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something.

It seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . . And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Our energy would simply prevail. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

I take away a couple of things from this quote. For one, mid-60s San Francisco, if you ran with the right crowd, was a creative time of almost unbearable intensity. For another, any “hip scene” I ever partook of was merely the reflected glow, in the same way that star clouds are illuminated by a supernova lightyears away. And a third thing: The supernova aftermath was fading away even as we were living it. This explains why – for me, at least – nothing ever matched the intensity of 1968-69, when it was all fresh, new, and exciting.

This is not to say that the aftermath wasn’t real, and didn’t last for a long time. The back-to-the-land movement lasted until the early 80s. Environmentalism is still lurching ineffectively along. The spiritual impulse, especially now that the boomers are getting older, still persists. But there were no other supernova explosions. The wave broke and rolled back. The golden moment was lost, and lost forever. The conditions suitable for such an explosion will never happen again.

Americans, for the most part, live in the perpetual now, like an Alzheimer’s sufferer. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact that’s what the mystics recommend, but humans are at least theoretically capable of remembering the past, of learning from past successes and mistakes, and projecting this knowledge into an imagined future. “Forewarned is forearmed” and all that.

Perhaps the mid-60s zeitgeist explosion was Gaia’s best shot, given the human limitations of what She had to work with. It sure looks that way, if you look at history through that set of filters. Rather than just living in the perpetual now, and always assuming that things will magically get better just because, an alternative perspective is possible. It’s possible to look at how things have played out for 45 years now and see that this country -- and by extension the entire planet – has been moving at full speed in exactly the wrong direction all this time. And for this there will be no consequences? Hmmm, a curious lack of logic here, Sherlock!

I hear a crashing and tinkling outside my window, which must mean that dawn is starting to break. A final thought: I indulge in this line of thinking because brutal honesty is the only integrity I have left after all these years. The bright promise of a bygone era has given way to a life that is still most excellent in most ways, but lacks the sure knowledge of a common good that I can contribute to. It’s not a bad place to be, actually. What did I call it the last time I mentioned it? “The blessed zero state?” “The blessed neutral state?” Something like that.  Neither high nor low, existence as a steady hum.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Our Annual Hay Run

The last time we made a hay run, I had just started blogging in a regular way.  One of my first posts last year was "Buying Hay," posted on November 12.

This year we bought our hay even closer to home -- from a neighbor who lives exactly one mile down the road.  Talk about buying locally!  He's a colorful character, an ex-fishing boat captain from Alaska.  He has a bumper sticker on his truck:  "Homer, Alaska -- a quaint drinking village with a fishing problem."

These 12 bales will be tilled into my garden next spring -- 4 bales per section.  They cost me $78.  This will be my biggest gardening expense for the year.  Other expenses include seeds, gasoline for my tiller, and electricity to run my irrigation pump.  Yet more expenses would be the annual amortization of my tiller and irrigation pump, and the garden's share of our property tax.  Have I forgotten anything?  Considering the quality of the food and the enjoyment factor, my garden is a bargain. 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Science, and the Lack Thereof

Science is the most important technique we have to move human discourse beyond the limitations of personal opinion. This is why the authoritarians are so anti-science, so new-agey. Because if all human knowledge is mere opinion, if there is no standard of objective truth, then whoever shouts the loudest, wins. And this is exactly what’s been happening for the past 40+ years.

When I was growing up during the 50s and 60s, we took science for granted. It had its gee-whiz aspects (like Mr. Wizard showed us), but for the most part it was stolid and rather dull. We had no idea how quickly and easily the authoritarians could use mass communications to dumb things down.

The essence of science is simple: make accurate observations, and draw the logical conclusions from these observations. I’ve always been a scientist (my brain is hard-wired that way), but I was repelled by how science is practiced within the Empire, so I chose to become an amateur non-specialist rather than becoming a professional specialist, which requires devoting one’s career to one small minutiae of knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s your cup of tea, but I had other things I’d rather be doing.

But I’m still a scientific loyalist. I admire and respect what scientists are doing. I trust the process. I believe that whenever scientists reach a consensus on anything, they are quite likely barking up the right tree. (There is always opportunity for contrarian scientists to overturn the consensus, but they’ve got to prove their point, and they’re got to be persistent. This tends to keep the consensus honest over the long term.)

So... when you have an entire scientific discipline – climatology – reach an overwhelming consensus that global warming is real, and is caused by human activities, I tend to take a good hard look at what they’re saying.

And when you have individual climatologists speaking out to the press, and when climatologists have conferences devoted to the oncoming climate catastrophe, I’m impressed. Chilled to the bone is more like it. Because scientists tend to be a sedate lot -- doing their research, publishing their conclusions in peer-reviewed publications, pretty much staying within their insular realm. Climatologists, figuratively speaking, are now climbing to the mountaintops and screaming at the top of their lungs. Scientists usually aren’t so bold. Obviously, something big is happening.

So I’m watching this (as I’ve been watching for the past 25 years at least), and saying, “Oh shit; this is really happening, isn’t it? We’re really in the deep doo-doo now.”

It’s impressive how easily the denialists were able to deflect the conversation, how easily they introduced confusion into the proceedings, and by so doing, prevented meaningful action from being taken when it could have made a difference. And as we will find out when they hold the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change in December, the powers-that-be STILL won’t take meaningful action. They are obviously nihilists with a death wish, and they're in charge.

We’re watching a tragedy playing itself out in slow motion. Science has once again been relegated to the sidelines, and the loudest, most aggressive males are once again, as usual, in control, preening and strutting, spouting the non sequiturs they love so well.

Sitting out here in the left field bleachers as I am, I’m able to see the whole playing field at once glance. I have no career to protect, so there’s nothing to keep me from jumping to whatever conclusion seems obvious. When I first heard in 2003 about the melting permafrost contributing vast quantities of methane and CO2 to the atmosphere, I immediately realized that we were potentially looking at a runaway greenhouse effect. I knew it would take scientists several years to publicly articulate this obvious conclusion, because they’ve got to marshal their facts before they present their reasoned conclusions. This is as it should be.

For them to now be holding conferences devoted to, in effect, shouting out a warning, is unprecedented. These people are freaked out. Having freaked-out scientists shouting at the top of their lungs should give one pause.

Since 2003 I’ve been paying close attention to any information having to do with the “melting Arctic” situation. For years it’s been “melting permafrost” here, “release of methane and CO2” there. Now scientists are starting to put numbers on the amount of greenhouse gases to be released. (It’s already too late to stop them.) Next, scientists will start making predictions about how this will contribute global warming. Finally, the obvious terminology, “runaway greenhouse effect” will enter the mainstream. (There are already 68,500 hits for “runaway greenhouse effect” on Google.)

I think there’s every reason to believe that the upcoming runaway greenhouse effect will eliminate most, if not all, life on this planet. For one thing, we’re not talking about just temperature rise. We’re also talking about the acidification of the oceans, which will be devastating to everything living there. We’re talking about the final destruction of the rainforests, “lungs of the planet.” Many other factors are in play at well. And why not include human madness, when nuclear weapons are finally unleashed in a final spasm of nihilism? Why not indeed?

Such thinking inevitably has consequences. I can feel a cold chill upon my shoulder. My own personal paradigm of meaning and purpose for my own little life is being shaken like never before. (I’ve semi-successfully kept my focus on my own little projects up until now.) A hard rain’s a-gonna fall, gosh, who said that? I think I’ll stop writing now and go out and irrigate my garden, appreciate the gentle beauties of the little reality bubble I’ve constructed for myself here. But I can feel more blog posts boiling over on the back burner. More episodes are yet to come, no doubt.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bee on Primrose

Laura caught this scene of a honeybee pollinating a Mexican Primrose.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hell on Earth (Updated)

I want to recommend the article, "Four Degrees of Devastation," by Stephen Leahy, presently posted on

Often I wish that surely my outlook is too gloomy?  Surely I'm wrong about this?  But no such luck, unfortunately.  Nope, I've been dead-on accurate all along, as one might expect from an outlaw planetary astronomer.

I'll run some quotes from the article, with whatever commentary comes to mind, not that the article needs any.  In short, scientists are now prediciting that the average global temperature will increase 4 degrees celsius within 50 years.  This is 7.2 degrees fahrenheit.  This is way beyond anything ever predicted before.  

"Eighteen months ago, no one dared imagine humanity pushing the climate beyond an additional two degrees C of heating, but rising carbon emissions and inability to agree on cuts has meant science must now consider the previously unthinkable.

" 'Two degrees C is already gone as a target,' said Chris West of the University of Oxford's UK Climate Impacts Programme.

" 'Four degrees C is definitely possible...This is the biggest challenge in our history,' West told participants at the '4 Degrees and Beyond, International Climate Science Conference' at the University of Oxford last week.

"A four-degree C overall increase means a world where temperatures will be two degrees warmer in some places, 12 degrees and more in others, making them uninhabitable."

( 12 degrees C. is 21.6 degrees F.)

"It is a world with a one- to two-metre sea level rise by 2100, leaving hundreds of millions homeless. This will lead to 12 metres in the coming centuries as the Greenland and Western Antarctic ice sheets melt, according to papers presented at the conference in Oxford."

Like I said in an earlier post, I bet this figure is rapidly revised upward. 

"Four degrees of warming would be hotter than any time in the last 30 million years, and it could happen as soon as 2060 to 2070.

" 'Political reality must be grounded in physical reality or it's completely useless,' John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told the conference.

"Schellnhuber recently briefed U.S. officials from the Barack Obama administration, but he says they chided him that his findings were 'not grounded in political reality' and that 'the [U.S.] Senate will never agree to this'."

Like I always say, democracy is now a failed concept.  The American political process is not capable of dealing with the climate emergency.  This is a very sad situation indeed. 

"Schellnhuber had told them that the U.S. must reduce its emissions from its current 20 tonnes of carbon per person average to zero tonnes per person by 2020 to have an even chance of stabilising the climate around two degrees C.

Reduce emissions to zero in 11 years?  This will simply never happen.  I'm very sorry.  Heartsick is more like it.

"Even with a two-degree rise, most of the world's coral reefs will be lost, large portions of the ocean will become dead zones, mountain glaciers will largely vanish and many other ecosystems will be at risk, Schellnhuber warned. And there is the risk of reaching a tipping point where the warming rapidly accelerates.

"These scenarios do not include potential tipping points like the release of the 1.5 trillion tonnes of carbon in northern permafrost or the melting of undersea methane hydrates."

I'm glad this article mentions that the inevitability of a runaway greenhouse effect isn't even factored into these calculations.  Perhaps the scientists are afraid of freaking people out even worse?  However, I'm sure that within a year or two, the oncoming runaway greenhouse effect will no longer be ignored. 

"The climate negotiators heading to Copenhagen in December must accept the fact that the world's carbon emissions must eventually stop - and stop completely. There is no sustainable per capita carbon emission level because it is the total amount of carbon emitted that counts, explains Myles Allen of the Climate Dynamics group at University of Oxford's Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department. Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for many centuries, which makes it the most important greenhouse gas to reduce and eliminate."

(Pause to let it all sink in.)

We now resume our regularly-scheduled programming on the Happyland Express!  Have a great weekend!



Wait, there's more:


ScienceDaily (Oct. 9, 2009) — You would have to go back at least 15 million years to find carbon dioxide levels on Earth as high as they are today, a UCLA scientist and colleagues report Oct. 8 in the online edition of the journal Science.

"The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland," said the paper's lead author, Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

"A slightly shocking finding," Tripati said, "is that the only time in the last 20 million years that we find evidence for carbon dioxide levels similar to the modern level of 387 parts per million was 15 to 20 million years ago, when the planet was dramatically different."

"During the Middle Miocene (the time period approximately 14 to 20 million years ago), carbon dioxide levels were sustained at about 400 parts per million, which is about where we are today," Tripati said. "Globally, temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, a huge amount."

Some projections show carbon dioxide levels rising as high as 600 or even 900 parts per million in the next century if no action is taken to reduce carbon dioxide, Tripati said. Such levels may have been reached on Earth 50 million years ago or earlier, said Tripati, who is working to push her data back much farther than 20 million years and to study the last 20 million years in detail.

More than 50 million years ago, there were no ice sheets on Earth, and there were expanded deserts in the subtropics, Tripati noted. The planet was radically different.

A Tale of Six Beers: The Saga Continues

Yesterday I sent the following message to Walmart Global Headquarters.  I understand that in general Americans -- especially those who work for corporations -- have short attention spans.  Fortunately I can be very succinct:

I was carded for buying a 6-pack of beer yesterday. I am 63 years old. What is Wal-mart's rationale for such absurdity?

That same afternoon they sent me the following non-answer:

Dear Gordon,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us with your feedback. Each comment, concern and suggestion is very important to us because it gives us the opportunity to evaluate the various aspects of our business. Be assured that your message will be forwarded to the appropriate team where it will be reviewed and carefully considered.

Thank you again for your correspondence.


Walmart Customer Care

Maybe the team will ponder my question and get back to me eventually, but somehow I doubt it. 

To me, this little mini-incident is yet another example of how what used to be considered common sense is being replaced by authoritarian arbitrary absurdity.

Another example:  night before last, Laura and Nancy were walking Nancy's little Chihuahua, Pippen, across the highway from Nancy's trailer.  A large dog spotted them and started running towards them.  Nancy scooped up Pippen and the two women ran back across the highway away from the threatening dog.  At that exact moment a Border Patrol car passed by.  Seeing two people running ("suspicious activity"), the officer turned on his flashers and stopped Laura and Nancy for questioning.  It was obvious that nothing was amiss, so the officer quickly let them go.  But imagine if they had been young males with brown skin, even American citizens engaged in harmless activity!  People are already being tased or killed for nothing.  Before much longer, if present trends continue, we will be required to carry an ID with us at all times. 

So yeah, I'm sensitive to new outbreaks of authoritarian arbitrary absurdity whenever I see it.

Peace Prize

Pardon my confusion, but I'm having trouble conflating "Barack Obama" with "Nobel Peace Prize."

My first reaction is, "huh?"

Setting the question of Afghanistan aside for now, let's look at America, the nation Obama is supposedly in charge of:  a totally-owned subsidiary of the military-industrial complex, most highly-militarized nation on the planet, spending more on military activities than the rest of the planet combined.  Has this changed one iota under Obama?  Have I been missing something here?

I always thought Obama was a total suck-up to the powers-that-be, whether it be Goldman Sachs or the Pentagon.  Now all of a sudden he's a man of peace? 

I realize that Obama is all about image, but this is ridiculous.  Damn, he's good!


Laura and I were in the beeyard loading empty honey barrels into our trailer when we saw this swarm.  Actually, we heard it first.  No photo can capture the essence of a swarm without that loud buzzing sound.  If you look closely at the photo, you'll notice that a lot of the bees are blurred or streaked because they're moving so fast.  After several minutes the number of bees decreased and the buzzing slowly subsided as the swarm gradually settled down into the brush.  Often they'll hang from a tree branch for several days until scout bees find their permanent new home.  This swarm occurred on August 6, which is very unusual.  The swarming season is usually in late spring, when plenty of honey is coming in, which allows them to quickly establish a new colony.  This swarm occurred during the middle of a hot, dry summer, when there was no honey flow.  It was so dry that even the saltcedars had stopped blooming.  It's not obvious to me why these bees chose such an unlikely time to swarm.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

It's a Sweet Life!

Laura came up with a new slogan for our honey business, so she went online and designed an apron and hat to wear at Farmer's Market.  It doesn't show up well in this photo, but the logo includes a honey pot flanked by a couple of bees.

Here's a close-up of the hat.  I always tell Laura, there's never a hat she doesn't look adorable in.

BTW. we are now going to change our name to "Sweetberg."

I Got Carded Yesterday

We buy cases of canning jars at Wal-Mart to sell our honey in.  We were there yesterday with a shopping cart full of quart boxes, and decided to get a 6-pack of beer for a special event on Friday.  While waiting in the checkout line, I read the notice they have posted, to the effect that the cashiers are instructed to card anybody who appears to be age 40 or below.  I told Laura, "They're covering their ass."

Imagine my surprise when the checker asked me for my ID!  I hammed it up, thanking him for carding me, saying it meant I looked 40, which is quite a compliment at my age, telling him I hadn't been carded for 40 years (an exaggeration, but close).  But after thinking about it afterwards, there are some sinister implications.

The checker told me his manager told him to card "everybody."  Also, the checker was told to look for expired driver's licenses.  WTF is Wal-Mart doing looking for expired driver's licenses?  What legal authority do they have to do this? 

As for carding "everybody," I think it's part of the ongoing trend to get everybody used to arbitrary absurdity.  "There's no reason for it, we just do it."  Like taking your shoes off in the airport security line.

Most sinister, it's the exercise of arbitrary authority from the powers on high.  For all they know, I'm actually under 21, wearing a clever disguise.  So to make sure, they will now card me (though obviously I will never buy beer at Wal-Mart again).  In an earlier, more commonsense era (last year, say), clerks were given the discretion not to card people who are obviously over 21 -- for example, 63-year-olds such as myself.  But society increasingly runs from abitrary directives from on high, and this is yet another example.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Coldframe Update

This is definitely our best coldframe crop ever.  It pays to, as they say, "feed the soil."  Which in turn feeds the plants.

These plants are way too crowded, so we're thinning them as fast as we can.  We add a big handful to our veggie smoothie every day, and now we're steaming a mess of greens every evening.  I like these tender baby greens -- they're mild and succulent. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Swat Team

For this photo, I'm trying to look suitably fierce.  Some psycho bees accompanied Neil and Devon home last week after they had moved some mean hives.  Normally, a bee gets aggressive only when defending its hive.  When bees are flying around looking for honey and pollen, even Africanized bees won't bother you.  Psycho bees are different.  They've been separated from their hive.  The last thing they remember in their little bee brains is the trauma of having their hive jostled and moved, so the hive defense program remains operative within their behavioral repertorie.  In other words, they fly around looking for trouble.  They typically only live a couple of days, but during this time they can make life miserable for anybody they encounter.

My Swat Team garb is more drama than anything.  It's virtually impossible to swat an attacking bee.  To a bee, humans move in slow motion, and are easily avoided.  From our slow human perspective, bees dart around so rapidly, they have already moved to a new location before our sluggish reflexes have time to respond. My strategy is to flip my flyswatter back and forth as rapidly as I can, and hope a bee accidentally flies into it.  This happens occasionally, but not very often.   

Monday, October 05, 2009


A property owner in the Mesilla Hills west of Las Cruces has several acres of perennial sunflowers that he has planted, evidently for erosion control.  Every fall, his hillsides are visible from miles away when the flowers bloom.

Here's a medium view.  These plants are drip irrigated.  Keeping them alive during the summer must take an enormous amount of irrigation water.

A close-up.  The flowers are busy with bees.  I don't know how much honey they produce, but they obviously produce something, or they wouldn't be so popular with the bees.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


Laura's latest foray through Guzman's.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


At Guzman Nursery.  Photo by Laura.

Friday, October 02, 2009


This beauty was temporarily flushed from its lair by irrigation water.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Slouching Our Way to Antitopia -- More Musings on New Buffalo Commune and the Counterculture

I recently finished Arthur Kopecky’s second book about New Buffalo Commune, called, as one might expect, Leaving New Buffalo Commune. It’s a sad tale, or it makes me sad at any rate. So much idealism, so much bright promise, swept aside by the pre-existing reality. And these people really, really tried. They invested their entire lives into this project. But it was like trying to stop a bulldozer with a bb.

As usual I’ll just meander around here and see what comes out.

An alternate title for this post is “Parasites, Predators, Unearned Power, and Perfect Freedom.” It’s very rare that the title comes to me before I write the essay, even though I decided not to use it.

Back in the day, I noticed a few things about hippies. For one thing, if a hippie told you they would do something, you could bet your life that it wouldn’t happen. “I’ll meet you at the town square at noon?” Never happen.

Also, the peace-and-love crowd drew predators and parasites, who found the peace-and-lovies easy pickings. There were some remarkably low-tone “hippies” prowling around back then. I managed to avoid them for the most part, but occasionally our paths would cross, so I couldn’t help but notice them. Parasites were more interested in “something for nothing” and were fairly harmless, but predators could really do some damage. That’s what ultimately happened to New Buffalo.

The trouble with unearned power is, a newcomer can move into a situation and be on equal footing with somebody who actually knows what’s happening. The oldtimer has earned his power through on-the-job experience, whereas the newcomer has much less to offer at the beginning. Yet, in hippiedom they were considered equal. The hippies had a free-and-easy attitude about power. They were trying to create a non-hierarchical paradigm in which power is shared, not imposed from the top of the hierarchy. Unfortunately this proved to be a perfect setup for predators, who could move right in and seize as much power as they were capable of, very quickly. With hierarchical power, it would be more difficult for a newcomer to do this.

New Buffalo started in 1967, when a rich kid bought some land free and clear, bought thousands of adobe bricks to build a compound they called the “Pueblo,” and bought basic farming equipment such as a tractor. Then he, like, as they used to say, split. By the time Kopecky showed up in 1971, the commune had undergone a complete turnover in membership, the taxes weren't being paid, the tractor had been sold. The commune was, as they used to say, totally untogether. Kopecky and a few of his friends stuck around, and over a period of several years gradually bootstrapped the commune to a state of serious productivity. The flame of idealism burned bright and hard for them, despite the setbacks and drug-induced mayhem. They gradually built irrigation ditches so they could irrigate their gardens, and fields of wheat and alfalfa. They bought goats and cows and started selling milk in Taos. They bought a tractor, other farm equipment, and a refrigerated truck to deliver their milk. They built greenhouses and solar collectors to help heat their pueblo during the harsh, high-altitude winters of northern New Mexico. They paid off their back taxes.

During all this, they never had enough money. They were young, strong, and worked amazingly hard. The money they brought in was used to buy food and other necessities. Their vehicles were always breaking down, and needed to be repaired. Gradually, they managed to accumulate dairy equipment and a small herd of dairy cattle. They started producing serious quantities of vegetables, wheat, and hay. They wanted to start a new culture, living on the land, living in harmony with the land and their neighbors. Kopecky obviously provided the focus and idealism that made all this possible.

New Buffalo always attracted parasites – people who came to hang out, get high, and eat free food. But it was the predators who destroyed it. There were only a handful of them. They had lived at New Buffalo in the past, and deeply resented Kopecky, whom they considered to be on a power trip. He was everything they weren’t. The downfall of New Buffalo is like something out of Ayn Rand – pathetic losers bringing down the brightest of lights.

As it turned out, Kopecky didn’t have any power beyond the force of his personality. It wasn’t “his” commune, after all. Ultimately, the predators made life so miserable for him (such as, taking pot shots at him while he worked in the fields) that he and his girlfriend finally left. This was 1979, after 8 years of gradual progress. They were on the verge of getting a grant to build a solar-powered, Grade A dairy barn, so that they could finally sell certified milk. The decline of New Buffalo was inevitable after that: the cattle, dairy equipment, tractor, and anything not tied down were sold, the taxes were no longer paid, and ultimately what was left of New Buffalo reverted back to the rich guy who made it possible in the first place.


In addition to being a focused and methodical hard worker, Kopecky was almost delusional in his idealism. He reminds me of myself in that way. After I moved to this piece of land in 1973, I always assumed that “something” was going to happen. (It never did.) By the early 80s it was obvious even to me that things were devolving, not evolving. But it wasn’t until the early 90s that I finally realized that Ecotopia was never going to happen. Quite the contrary, actually. How about calling our brave new world Antitopia? That’s the world we’re living in now, and just wait. Things are about to get very interesting, very quickly.

I need to mention Perfect Freedom before I go. The thing about hippies and communards: they were free spirits. Free spirits come and go like the wind. They will never be tied down. Thus: Joe is a critical member of the milking team. Those cows have got to be milked twice a day. Joe decides, on a whim, to leave the commune, or take a long vacation. Bye-bye, Joe! Too bad, milking team! Stuff like that happened all the time at New Buffalo. People came and went like the wind. It was hard to get any continuity. Kopecky always hoped to create a superior vibe that would encourage people to stay, but he never got more than a handful or two that he (and they) could really count on. Contrasted against the hippie ethic was the mainstream paradigm of selfishness, which still rules: Get a good education, get a good job, make lots of money, all for me, me, me. This is far and away the path of least resistance, so it’s not surprising that this is the paradigm that won. People consider themselves free, but are actually slaves. Our every act helps to destroy the planet in some small way. And as the Arctic starts to bubble methane at a furious rate, we already know how Antitopia is going to turn out.

New Buffalo: May you rest in peace indeed.