Friday, November 27, 2009

Attacking the Biomass

Quite a few years ago, the thought came to me:  "If you've got it, flaunt it."  "It" being in this case, plenty of water.  So I turned my place into a jungle.  I planted trees, vines, and shrubs, and before long my homestead became very un-desertlike.  Once some visitors told me that my place reminded them of Hawaii.  This was just the effect I had been aiming for, but eventually I discovered that things had gotten out of hand.
We have a shallow water table here, so plant roots can easily tap into unlimited groundwater.  This allows them to grow uncontrollably.  The first plants I had to remove were the Rio Grande willows I had planted along the river side of the house.  They turned our yard into a wonderful shady refuge from the hot sun, but their heavy branches were growing out over the house.  When I started cutting them back, I discovered that a single firewood-length piece was almost too heavy to lift.  I calculated that each branch weighed a ton or more, and would crush my roof if they were ever blown down by the wind.

That was my first major biomass removal project.  I couldn't reach many of the branches, so I hired a tree service to take down the rest of the trees.  That was early '06.  Last winter I hired a crew to cut down the cane along the river, and a Russian Olive hedge growing north of the house.  This winter we'll be attacking the vines.  I learned that if you give them unlimited water, vines will grow rampantly, and will soon become a fire hazard.  I'm much more paranoid about fire since the big fire two winters ago that destroyed a neighbor's house.  One thing about fire:  the danger isn't just from proximity to the fire itself, but also from falling embers that can be carried quite some distance from the fire.  So from a fire-prevention point of view, the vines have got to go.

First, here's a picture showing how vines can be sculpted into magical hobbit-hole passageways.  Vines can be way cool if you don't have to worry about fire:

Here's a before/after series from the northeast corner of the papercrete office.  I had planted a jasmine vine in 2000, and since then it had taken over two sides of the office, and half the roof.  If it wasn't for the fire hazard aspect, the vine would be very useful for welcome relief from the hot desert sun:


After.  Laura did this by herself on Tuesday while I nailed the rafters for the tool shed. 

Here's another set, taken from the southeast corner:

Before.  Perennial vines put on a layer of new growth each summer, leaving a thatch of dried twigs and leaves inside.  After 10 years, this vine was about 18" thick.

After.  There's a building under there!  Notice the ivy growing up the wall.  With unlimited sunlight, the ivy will now take over if I let it.  Ivy is a whole other post.  On the right side of the picture is a clump of honeysuckle growing alongside the house.  The jasmine and honeysuckle bloomed at the same time, so we had "dueling fragrances" each spring.  We'll be taking down the honeysuckle later this winter, but will allow it to regrow.  The jasmine will be Roundupped into oblivion.  Sometimes Roundup is the most realistic biomass management tool.

"Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it" as they say.  I just didn't wish for a jungle, I worked very hard to make it happen.  Yet another of dozens of "live and learn" experiences.  Stay tuned for further biomass adventures! 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thought for Today

From Joe Bageant:

Many of us have been pretty much invisible and voiceless except to each other. Out there are indeed intelligent and clear eyed citizens. The American populace is often underestimated.

The fact is that America's finest minds and souls have no voice in this chilling new corporate state that has evolved. And if we are not allowed a voice, if our monolithic system ignores us, pretends we do not exist, then for all practical purposes we do not exist. Therefore it does not have to offer us political candidates representing our views or change laws to reflect them. Nevertheless, we are out there -- millions of us.

Tool Shed

This 8x16-foot addition onto my tool shed (which is also 8x16 feet) is my big construction project for this winter.  I was going to do this last winter, but it got pre-empted by the Ark.  I'm designing it to have plenty of shelf space (the original tool shed already has lots of pegboard room), space to lay out my tools, nuts&bolts, pvc fittings, etc. etc.  There will be a row of clerestory windows at the top of the wall on the right side. 

Blog reader Jacques Conejo had this to say:  "That tool shed will be far superior to the shelters that house most of the world's human population."  Interestingly, he sent me that comment YESTERDAY, a full day before I made this tool shed post.  Way to anticipate the future, Jacques!  And while we're talking about the future, how do you think that global warming business is going to turn out?

Jacques is right -- this shed would be considered excellent shelter by most people on this planet, including many Americans.  For human use, I would make it 12x16 and throw in some windows lower down.  This would be adequate for one or even two very frugal people.  A very decent little shelter like this could be built for about $2000 in materials.  The big problem is buying the land the house would sit on.  And dealing with the building code authorities.  America is not set up for frugal housing. 

While we're on the subject of frugal housing, I've never talked about my papercrete website on this blog.  Here's the link: .  You can turn junk mail and old newspapers into papercrete and build a house for a remarkably low cost.  But I think for most people, the big issue would be finding land in a decent location for a reasonable price.  Housing is relatively straightforward compared to playing the real estate game.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Unique Stallions

You can't make this stuff up.  Who would have thought that the hamlet of Placita, NM, located near the village of Hatch, once contained the Unique Stallions Dance Hall?

I have always been a stranger in a strange land, and in my restless travels I often take pictures of this strange world we find ourselves in.  I discovered the Unique Stallions Dance Hall in 1987 or 88, while I was poking around the Hatch area looking for locations for my "low budget video."

What a splendid juxtaposition of words!  "Unique Stallions" is sheer poetry.  This is folk art of the highest quality.

As I recall, either this building no longer exists, or the signs no longer exist, or both.  When Laura and I make our little expedition to Hatch in a couple of weeks, we'll be sure to check it out.  Stay tuned for our update.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Pictures

House west of Vado.  Interesting use of alternating square and rounded decorations on top of the parapet.  I have this theory that there's an identifiable southern New Mexico architectural style from the 40s and 50s.  I didn't come across any examples on this trip, though this house is sort of in the realm.

Cottonpicker.  Just a snapshot of some November farmland ambiance.  When I first moved here in 1960, braceros (imported workers from Mexico) were still picking the cotton by hand. 

Another example of the oddball architecture I love so well.  The pink trailer in the lower-left is being engulfed by the house-in-progress.  Like a bacterium being eaten by an amoeba.

Laura asked why didn't they sell the trailer and use the money towards the house?  I would guess that 1) they are still living in the trailer and 2) the trailer has a nice interior (paneling, etc) that has the advantage of being already built.

From time to time I see works-in-progress like this sitting out there in the weather month after month.  This is fine if you don't mind working with warped lumber.  Ohterwise, I would recommend budgeting time and money for getting the job completed in a timely way once you begin. 

This ends the photo set from our little trip down to the south valley.  Next, we'll be visiting the little third-world village of Hatch, famous for its chile.  This will probably be in a few weeks.  First I've got to complete my tool shed addition in a timely way. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thought for Today

"We are at a moment when leaders cannot help us, because we need to go deeper than leadership can take us."
-- Robert Jensen

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More Pictures

Chope's, a Mexican Restaurant in La Mesa.  A local landmark and tourist destination.  I have a picture of Chope's I took in 1981 and it looks exactly the same.  Only the electric sign is different.  I wonder if Italian Swiss Colony is paying Chope a royalty?

Blue house in La Mesa.  There are fewer of these brightly-colored houses these days.  This house is located on a corner; I wonder if somebody drove through the wall?

Adobe fixer-upper in Chamberino.  The roof is held down by cinderblocks, which is a nice touch.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

More Pictures

At Stahmann's pecan orchard.  For years this was the largest pecan orchard in the world.  The trees lining the highway are some of the oldest pecan trees in the area.  This is the only place I know of where the branches form a closed canopy over the highway.  I wonder how they harvest the nuts from these trees?

Blue building in Vado.  Painted in the brightly-colored Mexican style.  It seems like fewer buildings are painted this way in recent years.  Prosperity has taken its toll.

Viburnum (Wild Raisin) in our orchard.  Red leaves provide a contrast with the yellow leaves of the Mexican Plums in the background. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Grassroots Press Column

Here's my latest column for Grassroots Press:

I’ve been an observer of politics since junior high school. (Does anybody remember Jack Redman’s run for Congress in 1962?) To me, politics has been the ultimate spectator sport. Like sports, there are winners and losers, with the added thrill that the winners get power in the real world. It’s a compelling spectacle, but lately it’s started to pall for me. I get tired of watching the idiots on Mount Olympus screwing things up. It’s like watching a really bad reality TV series. When you already know how the series is going to turn out, why bother watching?

The Bush era was easy to scope out. The plot line was simple. The Republicans are always cartoonish in their venality, so we always know exactly what to expect from them. When they’re in power, they’ll cram their agenda right down our collective throat, no nonsense. And the Dems will whimper and ask for more. Makes me glad I’m not a Democrat.

Now that the Democrats are supposedly in power, the situation is far more complex. Anything the Dems do is pre-compromised and so convoluted that only a policy wonk can follow the ever-changing twists and turns of a piece of legislation as it makes its tortuous way through the legislative meat grinder. The Dems will jab and feint and dither and flip and flop until you’re totally confused. What do they stand for, again? Oh right, they’re trying to serve two masters: the people who elected them, and the corporations that fund them. Hmmm, they must ask, how to serve the corporations while keeping the people as confused as possible? Maybe incomprehensible legislation will put people to sleep? Maybe sending diametrically opposite messages will keep people confused? And, how about convincing people that instead of insisting on half a loaf, they should just sit back and enjoy the smell of baking bread instead? There are so many options for the clever confusion-monger!

It doesn’t matter what the issue is – health care “reform,” financial system “reform,” climate change legislation, whatever. The end product is a 1000-page piece of legalese that, when you read it under a microscope to parse its true meaning, turns out to actually make things worse. Our 233-year-old experiment in representative government hasn’t turned out very well.


The internet is full of fabulous writers, and just look at the impact they’re having out there in the larger world! (Which just goes to show that if you want to be a major player, you’ve got to get on national TV. Writing is so 18th Century.) At any rate, here are a few of my favorites:

Matt Taibbi. Writes for Rolling Stone and has a blog. I appreciate his insight and take-no-prisoners writing style.

Digby. She posts several times a day on her blog. Her insights into Congress, the press, and all kinds of sociodynamics are unparalleled.

Joe Bageant. Born a redneck, and offers a lot of insights into redneck culture and why rednecks vote Republican.

James Howard Kunstler. I look forward to his weekly dose of doom-and-gloom every Monday morning. He’s a very entertaining writer, considering his subject matter.

Ilargi and Stoneleigh put out a financial blog, The Automatic Earth. They post more financial information than I can assimilate, but I always enjoy Ilargi’s commentary. If you ever find yourself believing the good news propaganda about the economy, try this blog for an antidote.

And of course my own blog. I try to go easy on the political and doom-and-gloom stuff, but sometimes I have no choice. I prefer to post pretty pictures, homestead happenings, signs of the seasons, and other positive reflections of life. It’s still a good life, despite the catastrophes on their way.

More Pictures

"The work of a compulsive builder."  I used to drive to El Paso every now and then.  On my way home I would pass this house south of Las Cruces.  It seemed like every time I drove by, the owner/builder was building another addition onto his house.  This is the end result.  I like the external staircase on the right side.

Cottonwood south of Las Cruces.  Not all cottonwoods are created equal.  Some of them turn an especially rich shade of orange in the fall.

"Beside still waters."  Laura took this one of our view down the river with the big cottonwood on the right side.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Pictures

Wall in Chamberino.  Like a concrete wave.

"Andrew, Ernie, and What's-His-Name."  Another roadside shrine.

San Miguel Church.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Winter Has Descended Upon Us

At this rate it's going to be a long, hard winter.  We had 21 degrees in late October, which is unusually early for such a low temperature.  On Monday of this week we had 22 deg, on Tuesday a frigid 14 (which is a midwinter temperature), and this morning 16.  As usual, I was semi-prepared at best.  I didn't think it would get down to 14, so I had some consequences to deal with.

I had covered my remaining tomato plant with the down comforter on one side and the heaviest regular comforter on the other side with a good overlap at the top, but 14 degrees?  You've got to be kidding!  Most of the tomatoes froze, which is to say ruined, but we picked them anyway just to be sure.  The plant had maybe 200 small green tomatoes on it -- almost 4 gallons in all.  If I had picked them a day earlier, blah blah blah.

I didn't cover the four coldframes in the garden.  The mizuna wasn't happy, but the kale, collards, and beets seemed OK.  However, I prefer not to freeze them so badly, since they will get shocked and stop growing.  Sometimes it takes them weeks to recover.  I've got to build the permanent lids for the coldframes.  They'll be heavy, but will also stand up to the weather better than foam insulation will.

The plants in the Ark coldframe did OK except for the potato.  Potatoes are a cool-weather plant, but are also very frost-sensitive.  I need to get those foam inserts inserted into the lid before it gets any colder.

The jungle of houseplants in the Ark didn't quite freeze, which is very good news, because I forgot to close the windowshades.  I'm planning to install foam inserts into three of the windows on the north and northeast side, close the windowshades at night, and even run an electric heater at night during the coldest weather if necessary.  We could very well have single-digit temperatures later this winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Laura and I moved our bed back down to the main house, which we call the Cave.  I didn't install a wood heater into the Ark because it would take too much room, and didn't want to use electric or propane heat, because I'm a cheapskate.  The Cave is built partly underground, has an R-60 ceiling, and has an excellent airtight wood heater that easily holds a fire all night.  Snug as a bug is how we like it in winter.  The heater is in the kitchen, which is the core of the house, and there are 3 doors opening out to the rest of the house -- the bedroom, the living room, and Laura's art room.  We can open and close these doors as conditions warrent, and regulate the temperature to our satisfaction.  It's an elegant system, not that I planned it that way.  Sometimes things just turn out for the best.

Photo Expedition

Yesterday Laura and I went on a little photo expedition south of Las Cruces.  We seldom get down that way except to check our beehives, and wanted to get some photographs of whatever caught our eye.  We're working on several different projects:

* "Old New Mexico" -- whatever remains from the olden days when things seemed more authentic.

*  Vernacular architecture -- anything funky, or unusual, or brightly-colored.  We will pass hundreds of houses before we stop to take a picture.

*  Roadside shrines.  When people get killed in an auto accident, sometimes their relatives will build a shrine for them where the accident occurred.

*  Folk art.  The usual quirkiness. 

Here are a few samples from yesterday:

Roadside shrine south of Las Cruces.

Old barn near Vado.  The walls of the main section are made of adobe, the wing on the left side is made of lumber.  The roof is, or was, made of metal.  There's a concrete silo in the background.  This was obviously quite a farming operation back in the day.  Buildings like this simply don't exist in the North Valley north of Las Cruces, which is shorter and much narrower than the South Valley.  There are a lot more square miles in the South Valley, and more opportunities to find decaying architectural treasures like this one.

Folk art north of San Miguel.  Long may she wave, etc.

More photos to come...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


By some coincidence, Laura and I watched “Idiocracy” last night, about a dumbed-down America 500 years in the future. We repeatedly commented to each other how it resembled America of today. Which was the intent of the movie, no doubt.

When talking about American moron culture, Kunstler always talks about the cheez-doodle-eatin’, NASCAR-watchin’, mega-church-goin’ lumpen prole class, but he always seems to ignore that they’ve been programmed to worship all things military, which has serious consequences. Gotta support the troops, whatever their mission may be. Libruls may complain that the mission sucks, that our troops shouldn’t be over there in the first place, but to the lumpen proles, we’ve gotta support our troops because freedom ain’t free, and it’s better to fight them over there than over here. What a masterful indoctrination job has been done since World War 2! Generation after generation, all trained to support the troops regardless of all logic.

A local example of this is the Las Cruces McPaper, the Sun-News. If you have the opportunity to scan the front page regularly, pay attention to the photographs. Before long you will discover that the Sun-News spares no opportunity to print pictures of soldiers, or the Flag, or best yet, soldiers carrying the Flag. (Ours is a Flag of War.) The function of this is to constantly remind readers of what this country is really about, to send the simple message: “Soldiers Good. Flag Good. War Good.” The Sun-News editors are probably unaware of what they’re really doing. To them, they’re just doing the right thing. This goes to show how deeply the pro-military mindset has been internalized in this country.

Now I’ve got to stop fooling around and start working on my Grassroots Press column.

Monday, November 16, 2009

American Moron Culture

James Howard Kunstler nailed it again this week.  Here are some choice quotes from his latest update on the Great American Experiment:

I'm fascinated by the dominion of moron culture in the USA, in everything from the way we inhabit the landscape - the fiasco of suburbia - to the way we feed ourselves - an endless megatonnage of microwaved Velveeta and corn byproducts - along with the popular entertainment offerings of Reality TV, the Nascar ovals, and the gigantic evangelical church shows beloved in the Heartland.

Moron culture in the USA really got full traction after the Second World War. Our victory over the other industrial powers in that struggle was so total and stupendous that the laboring orders here were raised up to economic levels unknown by any peasantry in human history. People who had been virtual serfs trailing cotton sacks in the sunstroke belt a generation back were suddenly living better than Renaissance dukes, laved in air-conditioning, banqueting on "TV dinners," motoring on a whim to places that would have taken a three-day mule trek in their grandaddy's day. Soon, they were buying Buick dealerships and fried chicken franchises and opening banks and building leisure kingdoms of thrill rides and football. It's hard to overstate the fantastic wealth that a not-very-bright cohort of human beings was able to accumulate in post-war America.

I take a certain serene comfort in the knowledge that it is all over now for this stuff and the class of morons that produced it.

A very close friend of mine calls them "the yeast people." They were the democratic masses who thrived in the great fermentation vat of the post World War Two economy. They are now meeting the fate that any yeast population faces when the fermentation process is complete. For the moment, they are only ceasing to thrive. They are suffering and worrying horribly from the threat that there might be no further fermentation. The brewers running the vat try to assure them that there's more sugar left in the mix, and more beer can be made from it, and more yeasts can be brought into this world to enjoy the life of the sweet, moist mash. In fact, one of the brewers did happen to dump about a trillion-and-a-half teaspoons of sugar into the vat during 2009, and that has produced an illusion of further fermentation. But we know all too well that this artificial stimulus has limits.

What will happen to the yeast people of the USA? You can be sure that the outcome will not yield to "policies" and "protocols." The economy that produced all that amazing wealth is contracting, and pretty rapidly, too, and the numbers among the yeast will naturally follow the downward arc of the story. Entropy is a harsh mistress. In the immediate offing: a contest for the table scraps of the 20th century. We've barely seen the beginning of this, just a little peevishness embodied by yeast shaman figures such as Sarah Palin and Glen Beck. As hardships mount and hardened emotions rise, we'll see "the usual suspects" come into play: starvation, disease, violence. We may still be driving around in Ford F-150s, but the Pale Rider is just over the horizon beating a path to our parking-lot-of-the-soul.

Interesting T or C House

Truth or Consequences, NM is a seedy little town that appeals to low-budget retirees who like to fish.  (Elephant Butte Lake is nearby.)  As the Boomers reach retirement age, a certain new creativity is now on display.  This photo captures some interesting exterior design elements:
    * The gate with brightly-colored doodads and interesting shapes affixed to the wire so they seem to "float in space."
    *  Diagonal shade cast by the ramada.
    *  Most interesting of all, the rock wall.  This is no ordinary rock wall.  The builder installed fence posts, and nailed fence wire to both sides of the posts.  Then he or she laid rocks into the gap between the wire, which holds the rocks in place.  This wall will last only until the wire rusts away, but till then offers the unique look of a rock wall with air spaces.  Pretty spacy, huh?

More rock wall.  The roadrunner was cut into corrugated sheet metal with a welding torch.  We couldn't get a better angle on it because there was a car parked right in front.  Notice the use of reed fencing in the background, which blends well with the rock wall.

BTW, this house is just down the street from "the house with the purple door."  This is what gentrification looks like in T or C:  purple doors and green roadrunners.

This section of fence utilizes wooden poles.  That's a nice use of alternating long and short poles.  The gate looks like corrugated sheet metal from which the galvanizing has been removed.  Nice use of rust as a design element!  The rust blends well with the warm color of the house.

A rust-colored mailbox (as one might expect), supported by a wire cylinder filled with rocks.  More rusty fencing in the background, with more alternating poles.  I suspect the "rust" is some kind of paint or stain.  All in all, this property owner has a consistent vision, the elements of which complement and reinforce each other.  Well done!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Refurbishing Our Solar Collector, Part 2

After a thorough cleaning and wirebrushing, we gave the entire collector two coats of flat black paint.  I decided there was no need to paint the famework a contrasting color.  The color contrast will be provided by the molding on the outside of the fiberglass.

I figured this was my last chance to photograph the air inlet, so here it is.  I used 6" stovepipe to convey air from the house to the heater.  After I took this picture, I vacuumed out the inlet and painted it black as well.  The white spot in the corner of the heater is a milkweed vine seed that landed in a rather inhospitable place to sprout.

Here's the air outlet, which conveys hot air from the heater to the house.  Once again, 6-inch stovepipe does the job.

The next step was to nail on new fiberglass and seal the edges with caulk to prevent air leaks.  We've been using it for several days now, and it's gratifying to have the collector working once again.  The final step for the front of the collector will be to install brightly-colored flashing and molding, which should happen this week.  Later this winter, or perhaps next winter, we will attack the ivy that has completely colonized the back of the heater.  Also, we will have to cut down two large pine trees that shade the heater during part of the afternoon.  Hell, they were only 18" tall when I planted them in1984; how was I supposed to know?  This business of removing inappropriate biomass is an ongoing theme for me in this unique riparian jungle I've created.  Fire hazards, unwanted shade in some spots, not enough shade in other spots; there's a lot more fine-tuning than I had ever anticipated.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Putting a Lid On It

I built the lid for the new coldframe just in time for cold weather.

During the day I open it and hook it to the wall.  Opening and closing it takes but a few seconds.  The final nuance will be to glue foam insulation into the four panels on the inside of the lid.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Yesterday's Sunrise

I went out on the sandbar and took this photo...

Then I turned around and saw the big cottonwood glowing red from the sunrise.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

Oct 26, before frost.  This sweet potato plant was about 20 feet in diameter.

Nov. 11.  We had 21 degrees on Oct. 30.  Sweet potatoes are more frost-sensitive than tomatoes or peppers.

Happy harvester with part of his crop.  This plant had a disappointingly small crop, considering that it occupied a large part of the garden for the entire growing season.  The last time I grew sweet potatoes in a serious way, in the early 90s, I grew half a dozen different varieties.  The yields per plant ranged from massive to almost nothing, so it's important to find just the right variety for your particular location.  I grew this plant from a sweet potato Laura bought at the Co-op last spring.  It started to sprout after sitting on the shelf for a month, so I planted it in a pot and set it in a sunny window to grow.  I planted it out in the garden in early May.

Laura and Nancy with the biggest sweet potato.  This variety has purple skin and very light yellow -- almost white -- flesh.  The flavor is not too sweet, which I like because I prefer regular potatoes.  If I ever expand my garden I'll plant several different varieties and see how they perform.  The yield would have to be a lot higher than this variety to make it worth my while.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Teaser Trailer

The teaser trailer for Neil and Jaron's slasher movie, The Dead Tapes, is now up at YouTube. 


Last week a roadrunner stopped by and checked us out.  Here, it's investigating one of our water buckets.  It didn't take a drink.

Then it hopped onto our plant shelf next to the window.  We've had roadrunner guests from time to time, but this is the first one in several years.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another One of Those Sunrises

Last week we were treated to this sunrise down the river.

Give It Up

I’ve been wanting to expound more on the whole “give it up” concept, which has many ramifications. At the most primary level, “give it up” can refer to our false sense of identity with the personality. It can also refer to “giving up” control of our life in order to find our deeper identity. It can also refer to “giving up” distractions, or overwork, or a career, or a relationship, or an addiction, or anything that’s standing in the way of your spiritual unfoldment or self-actualization..

“Give it up” can mean different things to different individuals, and can change for a person as time goes on.

Personally, I’ve already been wherever I could ever imagine wanting to be, but like the prodigal son I insisted on sleeping with the swine anyway. “To see what it was like,” no doubt. “Get back to where you once belonged” has been my theme song for a good long time now.

When I first moved onto this piece of land next to the Rio Grande in 1973, I experienced a pattern of blessed events that I appreciated at the time, but lacked the ability to integrate into any kind of stable reality. This pattern lasted for several years, maybe 2 or 3. Not necessarily every day, but frequently enough that I have always remembered it: Powerful dreams whose energy would linger for hours, or sometimes the entire next day. From this I gained the insight that Freud, Jung, and the “dream analysts” were barking up the wrong tree, concentrating on the “meaning” of dreams, or in other words, trying to reduce dreams to words. It’s like trying to reduce life to words. Sure, you can do it, but you trivialize it in the process. In the case of dreams, it seemed obvious to me that what’s important about them is the ENERGY (or whatever you want to call it) they can impart. Waking from a powerful dream reminded me of how a large bell still vibrates long after you can no longer hear it. This reminded me of the aboriginal “dreamtime” – the waking world augmented by, and colored by, dream energy. Talk about a subtle nuance in a culture consumed by “stuff!”

On a typical day I would wake up with my gong still vibrating, as it were, and all would be right with the world. Often I would pick up my dulcimer and make music. I don’t remember many details except that I felt filled with creativity, and made lots of music. One more thing: it usually wore off by midmorning.

My life at the time had other aspects: we were desperately poor, and I felt terribly isolated. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night, consumed by financial anxiety. There seemed to be no outlets for my creativity, which I desperately wanted to share. My homestead was a raw piece of land, and unproductive for the most part. My life, which in some ways had barely begun, felt stymied.

Skipping over the intervening years, which are a story Laura has always encouraged me to tell, we arrive at the present, and what do we find? For one, my homestead is almost finished, finally. A few more water catchment tanks, another room onto my tool shed, refurbishing my solar heater, windmill, and solar water heater, and I’m about as ready as I’ll ever be. I’m making the final push, and have been for over a year now, and in the process have become very physical and goal-directed at the expense of the finer vibrations. But the present pattern seems totally appropriate for this point of time. Finishing up while the economy crashes around me seems like good timing. But I do miss those subtle vibrations.

I have always wondered about my dreamtime escapades of 1973-75. Was it sheer youthful animal vitality? Was my isolation actually a good thing in the monastic sense? Did my poverty and consequent lack of destructive activity put me into inadvertent harmony with the Earth Mother? And the most important question of all: Can I get back to where I once belonged? Or move forward into something even better? As my life reaches its final stages can I finally stop working so hard, and start taking fuller advantage of the little reality bubble I’ve created here? What do I have to give up to get there?

Some things are obvious: Stop being so dependent on money. Stop making so much money. Stop spending so much money. Stop driving so much. Stop working so hard. Gosh, this sounds like retirement, doesn’t it? Retire from the busy-ness into a more contemplative and creative life pattern. Sounds good, except that I’m part of a family that still needs plenty of money at the present time. So any changes will have to be gradual. I’ve known for a long time that this would ultimately happen, and I’m glad that I’m finally able to dip my toe in the water from time to time. I’m looking forward to a good long swim.

Like I said, “give it up” can mean different things to different people. But there are also common factors. For one, I think most of us, including myself, can stand to give up our addiction to the consumer lifestyle. Life has so much more to offer. Big changes are finally on our doorstep, and the best thing we can do is open the door and welcome them in.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Kunstler's Best

James Howard Kunstler has been nailing it lately.  Today's post was one of his best ever.  Some choice selections: 

The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management. These days, Americans don't like reality very much because it won't let them push it around. Reality is an implacable force and the only question for human beings in the face of it is: what will you do? In other words, it's not really possible to manage reality, but you can certainly choose to manage your affairs within reality. We won't do that because it's too difficult.

American life will just wind down, no matter what we believe. It won't wind down to a complete stop. Its near-term destination is to lower levels of complexity and scale than what we've been used to for a long time. People will be able to drive fewer cars fewer miles. The roads will get worse. They'll be worse in some places than others. There will be fewer jobs to go to and fewer things sold. People who live in communities scaled to the energy and capital realities of the years ahead are liable to be more comfortable. We're surely going to have trouble with money. Households will drown in debt and lose all their savings. Money could be scarce or worthless. Credit will be scarcer.

History is reality's big brother. It is taking us someplace that we don't want to go, so it will probably have to drag us there kicking and screaming. For starters, both reality and history will probably take us out to some woodshed of the national soul and beat the crap out of us. That could be a salutary thing, since the crap consists of all the lies we tell ourselves. Once we're rid of all that, we may rediscover a few things left inside our collective identity that are worth regarding with real self-respect.

Ren Faire #9

Here we are at our ninth Renaissance Faire.  Sales remained strong -- this was our 3rd best Faire.  I had a lot of time during the weekend to think about unnecessary work and unnecessary distractions, and my ongoing theme of "give it up."  There is obviously an active fermentation process going on in my fertile little brain.  I think I'm ready to stop using "making money" as an excuse for compromising how I utilize my remaining store of life energy.  I have grown weary of pretending that I'm just another American. 

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Abandoned Church at San Acacia

Here's a remarkable find:  an abandoned church at San Acacia, NM north of Socorro.  Laura and I enjoy poking around in search of the rapidly-disappearing "authentic New Mexico."  We consider this church our most outstanding discovery so far.  All photos by Laura.

A closer view of the church.  Various parts of the structure are starting to lean at haphazard angles, which is the first step to ultimate collapse.

Just inside the door looking into the sanctuary.  One pew remains.  The alcove to the left is the confessional; the alcove to the right leads to another room behind the sanctuary.

All the graffiti in the church are of a religious nature, which is a nice touch.  There's none of the inappropriate "fuck sluts from Hell"  graffiti you might find elsewhere. 

More religious graffiti.  Fallen plaster reveals the adobe construction underneath.

A cultural anthropologist investigates behind the altar.

Inside the confessional.  The priest sat behind the screen on the other side of the little archway.

The money box.  Every church needs a money box.  Remarkably, it has a few coins inside.