Thursday, September 13, 2012

Houston, the Land Whale has Landed

We woke up this morning and stowed and disconnected and readied for the road and went to breakfast with Paul's friend, Andrew.  I liked Andrew.  He is one of the few people who can take issue with Paul about some factual or interpretive matter and keep a calm voice while sticking to his guns.  I am sure it is some sort of Jedi mind trick and I wanted to learn it from him.  But it was on to breakfast.

 Now, those readers who know me know that I start each day usually with a bowl of Geoff's "Sticks and Twigs," the name given by my friend, Michael, to my delicious blend of half a dozen grains, seeds, dried fruit, etc. that I make up in batches on a regular basis.  My system likes it and a half a cup of "Sticks and Twigs" in half a cup of almond milk (I know! Almond milk for crying out loud!) sets me up til way past noon.  I am not hungry or looking for snacks, and the whole grain goodness of complicated carbohydrates powers me through the morning.  Today I had already had Sticks and Twigs before we went to a novel Thai breakfast place.  The others ordered eggs, bacon, sausage, etc.  But having already eaten, and to be polite, I ordered something from the Thai side of the menu because the description promised a unique ingredient: "Mints pork." If I had had two portions of Sticks and Twigs, I still think I would have had to have the "Mints pork" dish, that turned out to be a vegetable laden soup with meat (pork) and rice.  Not a mint anything to be found.

I mention this because it turns out to be a theme of our trip.  It would probably be safe to say I have eaten about twice as much as I usually do.  Every time I turned around, it was time to eat again--big breakfasts, lunch as a break from the road, a potluck or dinner with a host.  Now, I grew up believing that food shared = celebration but, folks, I am not used to all that sharing.   A lot of it was fruits and vegetables, which were probably good for me.  And I don't want to seem either ungracious or ungrateful, but I ate too much.

Especially since I sat for over 4300 miles over the past month.  I am certain that stress from some of the driving situations may have worked off some of the additional calories, as did wrestling with the Land Whale every time it inched above 35 miles per hour or headed up (or down) one of the many 9% grades we traversed.  But I took my bike--rode it ONCE.  I took my hiking boots, poles and pack, but onlywore my hiking socks one cold morning with my Tevas.  I went swimming-once in a large bathtub-sized pool in the Phoenix RV park.  All the benefits from an early summer of hiking up Missoula's Mount Sentinel vanished into my Land Whale seat.  Wait, that may not be the image I am looking for...

Anyway, 4300 miles later, here I am back where I started on August 15.  This morning I told Eivind, "get me to I-15 and I know the way to my house."  And on we went, mile after mile of uneventful mile of low-volume Interstate Highway, out of Utah, in and out of Idaho over Monida Pass and into the Big Sky Country.  Through the smoke of late season forest fires,  I showed Eivind Montana's beauty where it should have been. The Land Whale is parked on the street where I usually park my car, a space having be preserved by my neighbor (Cherie, you are a pal!  Thanks for keeping the home fires burning!).  My companions are all snug in their beds and I am going to be soon back in my very own.


I awoke this morning in my own bed for the first time in a month.  It was strange.  For the past month my bed has been the Land Whale's couch, my linen a zip up fleece sleeping sack and my camping pillow.  So many days of waking up in the dark and carefully stowing my bed gear and making the cabin set for travel.  Now I woke up with space to dance in, my own bed.   I always slept pretty well on the Land Whale, but this was freedom I didn't know I missed.

This was a day that had lived in Paul's mind for quite a while.  We had to pick up Jocelyn's new Prius and show off Missoula to her visitors.  Eivind and I took a trip up to the M overlooking Missoula on Mount Sentinel.  I wanted to show him a good view of the town I am so proud to be a resident of but the smoke from nearby wildfires filled the valley like a bowl of soup.  Still, it was a chance for us to visit and for me to learn more about him and his plans to become a permaculturalist in his native Norway.  In many ways, Eivind has set himself as a pioneer in his own land.  He has a burning passion for an idea that has grasped his basic sense of who he is and how he is to be in the world like many young men do.  Will he be one of the ones so fully grasped that they wring success out of whatever opportunity comes their way?  Or will he be one of those who gets a lesson that pushes him toward bitterness?  These things, these moments come to all of us, of course.  But in the matter of rolling the dice, we all stand where we stand, and we get what we get.  Like most of us, Eivind is going to be tested, and his story is one that is worth following.  He is such a strong devotee of what Paul reaches, it will be interesting to see how his life pours out.

We ate lunch at one of Paul's favorite Missoula eateries--SaWaDee, a Thai place Downtown.  It was a good experience for Paul and me, Jocelyn and Eivind voted "meh."  We then took Eivind to see Missoula's Carousel. This was a project I helped guide into fruition and it is awesome.  In trying to explain Missoula to Eivind earlier, I told him that there were not one but TWO Norwegian fjord horses on the Carousel.  We also explained the practice of catching the brass ring and with that, he was ready to take his place in line and race to get on Slipnir, the outer Fjord horse.  As he rode around and around, he captured many of the rings, but the brass ring went to a little girl who rode a couple of horses ahead of him. He grinned like an eight year-old boy during his ride and that's when I knew it was the place for him today.

After that, comedy ensued as I tried to unhitch the bike rack I borrowed for the trip.  Paul's brother, Tim, helped me put it on the Land Whale a month ago.  He REALLY wrenched the bolt that held the rack into the hitch.  I couldn't tell what the size of the bolt was so I made three or four impressions on piece of paper.  While the others headed off to do other things, I headed to ACE Hardware to get a box wrench to do the job.  When I got there, I picked the size that seemed right, but when I got back to the Land Whale, it was too small, so I headed back to ACE to get a bigger wrench.  After filling out the customer return form and paying fifty cents more, I left with a larger wrench.  A larger wrench, but a wrench not quite large enough.  One more trip to ACE and a bigger wrench. Another customer return form and I headed back with the right wrench.  Even though the wrench fit, it required about 40 whacks with a hammer to budge the bolt and get the rack off.

Then, before I knew it, it was time to head to another local restauant favorite of Paul's:  Biga Pizza.
This restaurant is the real deal--wood fire pizza made with local products where possible with great care about local food.  Our last meal together as four travelers was light and full of good cheer.

I am sure that the full meaning,impact and importance of this trip will not be clear to me for some while.  The people I met that I wish were still in my life a little longer are already moving on with their lives, unlike some traveler who came to them and left. They opened their lives and, in some cases, homes to us. They let me in, a little, and shared something defining about who they are.  We were there on the wind, shared words and food, and parted.  We four, who completed a journey so audacious, so full of promise of failure, that I can't imagine anyone else undertaking anything like it.  That we did it and carried away a sense of those we visited, that we did it without resorting to murder and mayhem, that our heated words in frustration passed in brief time--this is what stays with me now.  In time I know this will be an adventure I will be glad to claim as one that changed me.

As I removed my gear from the Land Whale and gave Eivind my final pointers on how best to steer and operate the Land Whale as her new pilot, I was grateful that the others who joined me on this adventure were calm enough, forgiving enough, excited enough to bear with the others' shortcomings, foibles, quirks, idiosyncrasies and Land Whale riding qualities that we were able to part as friends and fellow travelers.  I hope you have enjoyed hearing how we completed this improbable journey and that it has been worth it to you to come along.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Nature of Truth

We awoke in a remote KOA in Southern Utah. [You knew that KOA was founded in Montana, right?] Although they are independently owned, it is one of my favorite franchises for the dependability of finding a basic, clean place.  Some have lots of extras but getting to land the Land Whale at a KOA is comfort just knowing what is at hand.

Among the many Land Whale quirks have been the few times it has not started when asked.  I suspect some deep electrical problem like a loose wire or a short.  Paul is convinced it is the solenoid getting set to conk out on us.  He used to drive a truck when he was younger, and I drove a truck when I was younger.  I took "Auto and Small Engine" as a shop class in high school but have forgotten most everything Mr. Stubbs tried to teach me other than the theoretical bits which I have a passable recollection of.  Once, when the Land Whale wouldn't start, Paul took to whacking engine parts with an axe.  We have lots of tools on board, but no hammer and Paul's experiences with solenoid problems were solved by hammer whacks.  We are not even sure we have located the solenoid but subsequent to Paul's whacking, the Land Whale started. He claims credit AND vindication for his bad solenoid theory.  I am skeptical still.  Which is why when we woke up at the KOA it was to a blissful, brisk near-frost, I announced to my companions that I had fixed the air conditioner.  Using an axe.  Hilarity ensued.

Our destination for the day was True Nature Farms in Southern Utah.  Again, I piloted the Land Whale over washboard farm roads of uncommon steepness, at least for Land Whales.  When we got to the Farm we found we had time for a tour with Eden, one of the head workers and someone I became convinced was totally on board with the whole permaculture idea.  He showed example after example of things he had tried with different outcomes, but each was a successful outcome because he had learned something new about the farm and how to bring forth its bounty.  Eden fit the profile I have come to recognize in the farmers we meet: patient, thoughtful, observant, thinking a couple moves ahead.  His browned face and eyes focused mid-distance in thought showed he was the real deal.  No poser, he.

Soon it was time for Paul's presentation.  Folks started drifting in from near and far enthused to hear Paul's thoughts on permaculture and specifically on the subject of "making the big bucks in permaculture."  Very few people make a decent living at farming unless they are big corporate outfits capable of bringing in the big subsidies or plugging into the immeasurable amount of corporatism.  Most farmers take on huge debt and often get jobbed by markets.  Everybody is in line to eat food, and a great many people are becoming wise to selecting good food for themselves and their families.  How, then, to make the connection between farmers willing to raise good food, and consumers willing to pay for it?  Several communities feature CSA's or 'community supported agriculture.'  That is a form of subscription shopping that fronts money to the farmer who then provides food on a weekly or other basis throughout the season.  That helps in making the connection and evens out the market, but Paul lecture was all about helping farmers--permaculture farmers--grow products that command high profits.

One example he used is of the hams that come from free-ranging black hogs in Spain that sometimes fetch $4,000 apiece.  These hogs run free through oak forests on their farmer's land and consume the acorns and other forage they find.  The hogs are known for their unique taste and if there is a caviar of 'jambon,' this is it.  Paul noticed that the presentation was being distracted frequently by the sound of falling acorns landing on the audience.  He asked, "how come no hogs here?"

Not every farmer is going to make it selling luxury hams at $4,000 apiece.  The market of those consumers able to pay those prices--and granted, the ham is sold by the VERY thin slice which does make it affordable, but it still means selling a LOT of thin slices to add up to $4,000 a ham--has a predictable saturation point.  The basic laws of economy mean that there will arise product substitutions, producers finding efficiencies in production that drive prices down, etc.  I don't think anyone in the audience thought otherwise.  There was some discussion about the strategy of marketing to upscale consumers and whether there was something about that that wasn't right.  After all, I think most farmers would be thrilled to sell their farm products to cover their costs and enjoy a profit that gives them an even chance at becoming debt-free and enjoy a decent standard of living for their families.

Paul held forth for nearly three hours before we finally broke for the potluck.  It was fun to see the people tuck into the wonderful spread that appeared with those in attendance.  The True Nature Farm folks also augmented the fare with their own contributions and no one went away hungry.  Afterwords it was time for talk around the campfire with those who did not have far to go to get home.

Like many of the permaculture outfits we have visited, True Nature Farm relies heavily on the work of interns who trade their labor for knowledge and experience.  True Nature was running with half a dozen or so of young men and women who heard some calling about bringing forth good food from the earth.  Many had done extensive research and reading about farming and, in particular, permaculture.  They basically live in their own tents and share a communal kitchen and meeting space where they socialize and organize their work schedules.  True Nature is populated by foreign born workers and I counted Israelis and, I believe, French among the accents I heard.

At the end of their season on the farm, these young workers will get the chance to go through a PDC or Permaculture Design Course, which is kind of the basic Jedi training for permaculture practitioners.  Successful completion of the PDC gives the first recognized level of accomplishment and getting it is a near-term goal these Interns are working toward.

 I had a rather long conversation with a young woman--hi, Angela!--who had left an established career in the hotel industry when she woke up to find her soul was being sucked out by her work.  After selling off the accoutrements of her past life, she wandered around and found her way to True Nature Farms where she was finishing her internship.  The next phase of her life after True Nature isn't quite clear to her now, but she impressed me with the development of her deeper principles and of her commitment to developing a Self that will contribute great things to the planet.  Whenever I encounter a person like Angela, it makes me wish I had had the kind of questing and yearning she has when I was her age.  I don't kid myself that her path is easy or that she is due for some profound enlightenment.  My experience is that it doesn't work that way.  Still, I wish there were something I could offer her that was more than best wishes on her journey.  I asked her to keep me up to date on her life because like a great story, I am deeply interested to know how it turns out!

This morning we woke to a pleasant rain--the first rain to speak of on this trip.  After a quick good-by we cast off and ran the Land Whale up through the Dixie National Forest.  We climbed to 9600 feet and saw some awe-inspriring scenery.  We sailed on up I-15 to visit Paul's friend, Andrew. We are back in the land of multiple lanes of traffic, but like the horse who knows it's headed to the barn, I can tell that I-15 connects me to Montana.  I am eager to get home.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Slow Turning

The notion to cross from southern California to Phoenix turned out to be brilliant.  The afternoon before we left, I relaxed and caught a few catnaps.  Late in the day, I started on-loading iced coffee and fruit juices and my gum caddy was loaded.  By the time I hit Interstate 10 eastbound, I had already hit my stride.  I knew I was going to miss some pretty scenery in the night but having the vast scope of the road clear as far as I could see and every other motorist identified for miles by red brake lights or headlights no more vexing than major stars was worth it.  

By the time the eastern sky began to glow with coming day, we were already on the hunt for a landing zone for the Land Whale.  The first one we tried, Apache Road RV, proved a winner.  We got there before opening but as we pulled in to circle the grounds to gauge our chances, Harry, the owner, stepped up (he was doing his pre-opening chores to his spit and polish RV court) and when we told him we needed to land for a night,  he pointed us to an open spot conveniently located near bathrooms and the laundry.  “Come sign in when we open” was all he said, directing us to the hook-ups. My kind of guy—friendly, problem-solving and trusting.  We have met more than one Harry on this trip.

Paul and Jocelyn and Eivind took off to look at some permaculture sites that had been pre-arranged by a local contact.  I believed after my all night driving adventure that I would sack out to recover.  As it was, I felt alert, energized and ready for something.  When the left, I volunteered to do laundry.  Now, as a single man, I have done my own laundry for decades—it’s no big deal.  I usually take something along to amuse me when I do it, though, sort of doing my part for the multi-tasking movement. 

In this case, I brought my Kindle that was carefully packed with all my other electronic gear, cords, dangles and doo-wops in my computer case.  I don’t know why I brought it along—it wasn’t like I wasn’t going to be amused by a million other things, but there it was.  Now, I am pretty sure the Kindle is the tool of the Devil, like sex, but something about doing laundry made me dig it out of its storage space.  I should say that I hate reading on the thing.  I am a diehard, dead tree kind of reader.  I love the feel, look and every other sensation of real books.  But as part of a lifelong commitment to broadening myself, I downloaded an audio version of James Joyce’s  Ulysses .  I have always been a little embarrassed that I knew nothing of this amazing book until I was in my early 50’s.  I had tried before but it was so dense and beautiful, I couldn’t begin to get anywhere with it.  Now, I have gotten so far as to understand the story and what goes on that I am starting to tease the meat from the bones.  The audio version of the book was meant to give me a sense of the brilliance of Joyce’s poetic  gifts. 

 For the laundry, I chose to listen to the chapter called “The Cyclops” which, I confess, cracks me up like nothing else.   Joyce puts me in that bar with those Dublin denizens and I am with them the whole way. Each character has something to say that is worthy of comment and guffaw.  A rinse and spin cycle  later I found myself sorting dry from hang.  Thanks, James Joyce, for making me laugh out loud at your words.

When I got back to the Land Whale, things were unusually quiet.  Not because my companions were gone, it was just quiet.  I know they left the air conditioning on (Paul spent a miserable previous night transiting from California to Phoenix until he was able to get the air conditioning on and running full steam [?].  I fiddled with the switches, I unplugged and replugged, I got out the manuals (which are among the WORST documentation for a product I have ever encountered) and checked what I could of the electrical system and could find no reason why blessed cool air was not bathing the inside of the Land Whale.  I texted Paul with the news.  Shortly I got a text advising I do something I had already done. Time to let that one go…

From an earlier post about our stay with Art Ludwig, you may recall our discovering that John Hiatt was playing very near where we had the Land Whale serviced a couple of days before.  I was THIS CLOSE to seeing John Hiatt in concert.  I think John Hiatt is probably my favorite singer/songwriter after Bob Dylan.  Once when I spun out real bad on a patch of reality on the Highway of Romance, John Hiatt’s music brought me back.  I ended up buying every album he recorded and got myself a guitar so I could learn to play and sing his music.  That only proved I sucked as a musician and singer so I gave it up.  But I didn’t give up my love for his music.
Now, when we crossed paths with John’s tour in California, I happened to meet his tour manager and told him of my love of John’s music and my disappointment at not seeing him in California.  But, I assured him, I was going to catch up with the tour in Phoenix and I would be there.  Once the laundry was done, I performed my bodily ablutions and headed for the light-rail to go Downtown. [Did I mention that we parked the land whale at the only RV park serviced by the Phoenix area light rail system?  I wish I could say that was by design, but I have to hand that one off to LUCK.  Now, I know what you are saying: “Luck is not a strategy.”  While that may be true, I still think of myself as one of the luckiest people I know, so there you go.].

When I got on, I saw a jillion Arizona State University faithful getting set to head to Sun Devil stadium to watch their mighty elevens (twenty-two’s?  whatever is the NCAA limit for team members?) go head to head with some school from Illinois and crush them.  That was a good sign, I thought;  The more people at a home game, the fewer people trying to see John Hiatt.  When I got to the venue, I walked up to a very pleasant young woman and asked to buy a ticket to the concert.  She looked at me like I was a flat earther and said, “the concert is sold out.”  I was about to plead my case of being all the way from Montana, having chased the Hiatt tour for weeks, etc. but I realized none of that would work.  I went and bought a salty dog and pondered my predicament.

I KNEW I was going to see this concert, but I didn’t know how.  The only scalper the bouncer identified had split minutes before, having off-loaded two tickets.  I told him my sad story and asked him to look out for me.  Nothing happened.  Then, ten minutes before show time, the very pleasant young woman crooked her long, painted nailed finger at me and I walked up.  She said, “Do you have exact change for the price of a ticket?”  I said, “ Hell, yes!” or something to that effect and the next thing I knew, I was in the venue at the edge of the stage next to the pit containing John Hiatt’s guitar tuner.  Bingo!

Now, let me say something about the John Hiatt audience.  We are a sad, fricking lot.  We are an old, grey, balding, paunchy, saggy,  hair-colored, awkwardly dressed bunch of people.  I looked around the crowd to see if there were any people I considered attractive.  Not one.  Then it dawned on me that I was with my tribe and the realization that we were all one left me just a little unnerved. No one would be scoping ME out, either.

Then the opening act started.  Salvador,  a kind of Gipsy King knock-off took the stage with his percussionist and started wailing out these amazing Spanish love songs.  Bravo.  I dug him and his doing flamenco foot taps on the wooden box he stood on while he played.  Before long, he was done and John Hiatt and his band took the stage.

John Hiatt   [picture souce: stolen from somewhere]
Now, John Hiatt has crossed the muddy water of age 60.  Some performers become caricatures of themselves and re-tread the same old stuff all the time when they get there.   That is sad.  I have seen Hiatt perform a few time and I was worried that he would leave the good stuff in the dressing room. How delightfully wrong I was.  He played true and strong.  He sampled stuff from his entire catalog and he and his band nailed it like a roofing crew.   My face hurt from grinning.  Now, he failed to play two songs I would have loved to hear:  “Lipstick Sunset” and “Icy Blue Heart.”  He touched on all the Love-gone-wrong themes in other songs, but these two are ones I really like. Everything else in the show—including the fact that I was there watching it!—was so positive, it was hard to apply any marks off for not playing two songs I wanted to hear.  In short, the voice is still there, the musicianship is still there; having fun playing music for people is still there.  Go see John Hiatt.  The concert is worth it.

After the concert, I decided to buy John’s latest CD. And who should I see selling the merch?  The tour manager I met in Agoura.  He said, smiling, “Hey, you made it!”  I said, “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything—I was meant to be here.  Tell John “hi” from Geoff from Montana.”
The ride back on the Phoenix light rail [did I mention how cool I think light rail is?] was with other Hiatt fans and we processed the concert like fans do.  One by one, they got off at their stops until I was on the train all alone.  I started awake as I heard the tinny lady from the train say, “Apache and McClintock—next stop.” And I was home at the Land Whale.

The next day was a long day headed to Utah following a portion of legendary Route 66.
We stopped at the Grand Canyon a couple of places for maybe an hour and headed north and took in Bryce Canyon for an equally short period of time. 
The Grand Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Yes, my hiking gear was screaming at me from its storage space, insisting that we take a trip down the trail.  But, no, my sedentary existence at the helm of the Land Whale was demanded.  We proceeded on, arriving at our landing at around 10:00 p.m.  The long days of driving windy roads at night are back.  I never thought I'd say it, but for pure driving pleasure, that trip at night from Southern California was a joy in comparison.  At night on a windy road there is nothing to see except the next "Slow--Corner" sign and the headlights of the people who want to pass me.

[Sorry this is such a permaculture-free post but like the Land Whale, I am the captain of this blog and you will get what I write.  Fair enough?]

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Name This Ranch!

After leaving Coast RV with our motorcoach in order, we headed to Fallbrook (sort of between LA and San Diego).  To get there, I had to drive on or by all the legendary LA freeways and streets I had heard about in movies, TV shows and rock 'n'roll music.  Mulholland Drive, Ventura Freeway, Highway 101, and others.  Of course, about all I got to see of them was their names because, believe me, my eyes were on the road and keeping track of five lanes of traffic, drivers all intent on getting where they were going, avoiding landing a whale on them, etc.  When I REALLY push it, I can get 63 mph out of the Terra Cetacean (you didn't think I would ever resort to that, did you?) but it is a rocking and reeling ride, not for the faint of heart.  The highways also made me think of my friend, Bill.  Born and raised in SoCal, he has regaled me with stories of surfing and fishing and all things water-related in his youth as a citizen of the Golden State.  I am glad he is now a Missoulian--it is easier to be his friend when he lives in the same town that I do.

Paul Varese and his wife Molly provided the Land Whale's most recent dock space.  Paul was waiting for us at a freeway interchange to lead us to his home and nascent permaculture farm.  Talk about service.  After guiding us into our resting space, he invited our crew down to a fire pit for a glass of wine and conversation even though it was already past 10:00 p.m.  Already I liked this guy!  Our Paul had plans to visit some farms and other sites the next day before making a presentation in the small city of Oceanside.  My plan was to snooze as much as possible because we had decided the best way to cross from San Diego to Phoenix was during the night time so I scheduled a day of relaxing and snoozing in preparation.
Just when I think I have met most of the nice people in the world, along come Molly and Paul.  They and their son, Julian,  have been on their spread for a little over a year and are in the process of converting it from  avocado orchards to something a little more permacultural-ly.

 As I lay dozing on my bunk in the Land Whale, Molly came down and introduced herself and invited me up to the house for lunch with her and her Mom. Molly is one of those creative people who has a fine eye for design and collecting interesting objects.  What's more, she is keeping goats on their place and developing a line of herb-based soaps.  (Later when it came time to put the goats back in their pen, she called out, "Time for a cookie!" and those goats came running, their soft hooves clicking on the driveway like little leather hammers.  Goat whisperer?  More like "Goat Hollerer"!)  She and her Mom were the warmest lunch companions I could imagine and before I knew it, a lot of my snooze time had happily disappeared.

Before we all left for Big Paul's presentation in Oceanside, our host, Paul, gave Eivind and me a tour of his property and the projects he had planned or had gotten underway.
Paul shows Eivind his terracing.
When I asked Paul the name of their place--I knew it had to have a name--he just laughed and said that was something they were working on.  The first name, "Rancho Juliano" in honor of their son, just didn't seem to make the statement they wanted.  Next came "Goat Hill Ranch" in honor of the goats they keep.  That one doesn't have the traction of a winner yet, so keep at it;  they will find the right name, or it will find them.


Goat Hill Ranch or Rancho Juliano or...?

One of the features of the place Paul showed us was this cement reservoir that had been installed long ago but which was no longer serviceable due to cracking and settling.  Paul recognizes that this is a perfectly good hole in the ground at the upper edge of his property and is mulling options including a small residence that will allow them to enjoy outstanding views and a place to get away from everything--except perhaps the goats who have already claimed the reservoir as their play ground.  Paul told us that the goats sometimes get in the cement pool and just run and run around it like those caged motorcycle daredevils.  Apparently that counts as fun for goats--no one has made a reality TV show of that, but there is still time.
Cement Reservoir/ Goat Playground
Paul and Molly have a lot to work with, but a long way to go.  I'd love to come back in a few years to see how their work has paid off for them.

Big Paul's talk was scheduled for the Oceanside Library.  Oceanside is a nice little town in which I felt immediately comfortable.  The Library, a modern building which is part of a larger municipal complex had clean lines, lovely public spaces and is something I hope the residents of Oceanside are proud of.  When we got there, we found that there were a host of signs to Paul's lecture room which made way-finding in a strange building easy (much of the organizing work for this talk was done by Diego Footer, one of Paul's many fans.  thanks, Diego!).  It's always hard to guess how many people will turn out on a Friday night to hear a talk on permaculture as an alternative to irrigation. In this part of California, it turns out a lot turn out.
Oceanside, California 

And, in the audience were Eivind and Paul and Molly.  What a great bunch!                                      

Eivind along with Paul and Molly

After the lecture was over, it was back to Paul and Molly's to board the Land Whale and make our crossing to Phoenix.  Paul and Jocelyn were understandably exhausted from a day of touring and speaking and headed for some rack time.  I kept Eivind awake just long enough to get me on the right highway and off we sped into the night.  Fortified by iced coffee, chocolate and cold pizza,I got us to our current docking station by around 7:00 a.m.  The relative peace and quite of fairly traffic-free highway provided me with some of the most enjoyable Land Whale riding I have experienced so far.  To keep myself amused, I thought of all my grade school and high school teachers and tried to remember classmates from those years.  I imagine all the things they have accomplished and achieved, and I wonder if they have ever taken a trip like this.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere

Our next stop was in Santa Barbara to visit Art Ludwig.  Art has done a lot of work in the area of water management;  diversion and storage, certainly, but treatment, as well.  Abundance of fresh water for consumption and agriculture is not something that can be taken for granted.  Even with the presence of water, say, in a convenient aquifer like the people of Missoula, Montana, enjoy is only part of the equation.  It takes energy, labor and a huge infrastructure to pump and distribute that water.  It turns out the water itself is fairly inexpensive—it’s there for the taking for whoever has the water right.  Nature sees to that in its own naturally efficient way, but our demand for vast quantities of Nature’s clean water requires an expensive delivery system.
The cool stuff that is water.

And that’s not the end of it.  After we use the water for drinking, cleaning, etc. we have the problem of dealing with the waste water.  It has to be moved away from the user, centralized and treated and then finally directed to a body of water for further dilution or to carry it away.  The waste water treatment systems used by our society have had to become more and more sophisticated as our lives have become more complicated by the use of chemicals in our households and factories, the use of ever more sophisticated pharmaceuticals that don’t easily or completely breakdown in our bodies, use of agricultural pesticides and fertilizers, etc. 

What was once simply “fresh water” and “waste water” have become fractured  into different categories that describe their relative freshness and waste quality.  We now have waste water that is grey water and some that is brown water and black water each of which requires different considerations.  

Art thinks about this problem and how water can be better managed and handled at the household level.  For example, he did some of the earliest work in thinking about how water from our showers and dish washing can be diverted as “grey water” and used to water plants and lawns.  He has done work on what to do with poop and pee that doesn’t involve huge centralized systems.  The key is making the waste-water handling and treatment easy, safe and effective enough to work on a household level.  We are not there yet, but Art is scouting the way.  Understandably, his work overlaps with permaculture’s values of reducing waste output and turning wastes into resources.

Art lives in a compound of houses and cabins that were once  rural family escapes from the LA metro area.  Many still bear the features of log construction, metal roofs and the narrow tiny driveways that are the bain of Land Whales of the world.  Art had a spot for us to park that bent back a fig tree or two but left room for the Land Whale’s door to swing open with a good ¼ inch to spare.  The weather has been mild while we were here—had it been hot, I think expansion would have used up that ¼ inch.  As it was, on backing out this morning, the fig tree struck back and snapped the Land Whale’s antenna.  The radio doesn’t work anyway so Paul didn’t hesitate to whip out his Leatherman tool and snip it off completely.

Today is another “make and mend” day so we drove down the legendary Highway 101 to Coast RV to get the Land Whale serviced before we head to San Diego and then east to Phoenix.  Larry Thompson, the owner, allowed me to talk my way in to a service date even though his calendar for the day was already full.  Guy from Montana, 21 year old Land Whale, crossing the desert in my future—it’s the sort of tale that draws out the milk of human kindness.  Since we haven’t been showering quite as regularly as any of us might like, we took the opportunity to do laundry.  I am staying with the rig while the others wash dry and fold our duds.  Later, they are going to visit some farms while I try to do some catching up on things.  Larry is short-handed today, but I think he will do his best by us.  He seemed like an upstanding guy.

Later we are going someplace further on our journey—Oceanside, I think.  That will also be a light duty day, since we are going to take the Land Whale and head east to Phoenix.  The plan is to drive it at night and avoid the heat.  While driving, I don’t get to see much anyway and Paul and Jocelyn have their heads buried in their laptops so the beauty of the desert won’t be missed.  Oh, Eivind might miss it but he has had such a great time collecting the books written by Art and the other innovators he has met on this trip, he may just bookworm his way to Phoenix.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mountain High, Valley Low

We left our hearts in San Francisco according to custom and headed south and east toward Mariposa, California, a place that was subject to 49ers hoping to pry their fortunes out of the gold-riddled hills.  Driving up those crazy mountain roads has had me thinking, "what kind of medications do the road engineers of California take???"  These twisting, climbing, dropping by-ways are a challenge in the Land Whale.  I have too much length, not enough power, too high a profile, too much mass, too little braking reliability, too many cars blasting up my backside, too little visibility, etc. for these roads.  It made me think, whatever drugs these guys are on, they are taking too much or too little of them.  It finally occurred to me that these roadways are so old, they were probably well-established in the days of wagons and horses that couldn't go too fast and for whom the tracks probably made a lot of sense.  When automobiles came on the scene, it probably just made sense to pave what was there because the roads went to and from places people wanted to go. Hence, a white knuckle ride!

The roads and the country reminded me of Wallace Stegner's novel, The Angle of Repose.  I read that novel so long ago, little detail of it remains of it in my mind.  I recall it depicting a scene of a harrowing trip over the mountains to a mining town in a horse-drawn wagon, and how the trip left the horses horribly wasted.  I also imagined those people whose drive and spirit impelled them away from civilization to go live lives on the frontiers of the West where life was hard.  They had to have been a bunch of rough cobs to take that on and survive--many didn't.  Still, their children and grandchildren really made it work, though. That next generation following the original stakeholders inherit the spirit and a piece of the place made more civilized by their parents' huge efforts and sacrifices. Most of us do.

One needn't wonder if any of that original pioneering spirit still survives.  It does, but its hand-built home and back-to the-land energy in many cases is connected to the world with smartphones and libertarian politics.  It stands to reason that living a lifestyle the government doesn't want you to live and which most of society doesn't understand yields an attitude of independence, suspicion and leave-me-the-hell-alone-ness.  Now these frontier-types can maintain their preferred isolation and still stay connected to whomever they choose via the internet.  That community connects them with like-minded people and people willing to share information and experiences on how to do things. We were going to that world.

We visited Glenn and Kathy's place, arriving late at night and parking right next to the rusted hulk of a well-drilling rig.  Poking around trying to learn about the lay of the land, my flashlight found printed signs that warned "Federal officers of the IRS, HEW, HUD, Environmental, Health and other unconstitutional agencies" [HEW, by the way, was reorganized under the Carter Administration and has not been around since then.] about the problems they would face if they entered his property without permission.  These signs are a way to keep at bay inspectors and agents who might have an interest in what Glenn is doing.  It makes sense to get inspectors to agree not to fight before actually engaging them by making them shy with dubious legal mumble jumbo, if it works.

Glenn and Kathy do not want a house that passes inspection, they want the house they are building.  Glenn, a professional metal-worker, fell in love with Mike Oehler's ideas about building his own house.  Stuff, and by this I mean building materials and building knowledge, come to Glenn all the time.  These materials, logs mostly, and wood Glenn has cut on his own sawmill, have been put together without benefit of professional structural engineering using techniques Glenn learned from Mike and though his own research and experience.  Railings on the steps in the house, for example, are made from found pieces of wood.  When he is out, Glenn keeps his eyes peeled for just the right branch to make a turn around the spiral stairways he uses in his house to save space and materials, and because they look cool.  As a result, their home is graced with a  combination of nature and art that is both zen-like and clever at the same time.

For all its unique construction and interesting beauty, this house will most likely never grace the pictures of Architectural Digest or House Beautiful.  The edges and joints in the wood, in many instances cut with a chainsaw, are un-apologetically rough.  There were places where I saw gaps filled with burlap rice bags and, in a couple of places, plain daylight through the joints.  Corners and edges are surprises.  The floors are made, in some rooms, with cob ( a mixture of clay, sand and sometimes straw) or even dirt with linseed oil on them.  Others are beautiful poured, hand-tinted concrete, and re-purposed boat docks.

Glenn estimates that his whole house--some 2200 square feet in size and a quirky warren of rooms--cost him around $5,000, not counting his labor.  He and Kathy have stuffed it with an amazing collection of antiques and books, so don't conclude they are living in some sort of squalor or inhabit a hovel even though much of their home is below ground.  The trick of this kind of construction is to allow natural light to infuse into every room so that the beams and earthen floors do not become too oppressive.   And did I mention they were off the grid? 

As a pedigreed bureaucrat myself, I probably come down on the side of the inspectors and the role they play in our communities.  Behind most codes is some incident where a resident of a home or other building died due to some correctable construction practice. (Interestingly, Glenn mentioned an account of another one of these do-it-yourself home-builders who had made his own concrete home without benefit of inspectors only to die, crushed in it a week after moving in due to subsidence caused by running water beneath the structure that compromised its structural integrity.).  Do people have the right to build a home without following building codes?  I suppose if they are the only ones to go in it.  But what if concrete house guy had a wife, or kids?  What if he had visitors spending the night?  Do you have the right to know that although Glenn built everything hell for stout, his home fails to meet all seismic, fire, and structural codes?  Do you trust that he knows enough about building these structures that your visit is safe?  I found their home as fascinating as they were and whatever risk I took was worth it to see what they have done for themselves.  They were gracious and warm hosts.

After saying good-bye to Glenna nd Kathy, we steered the Land Whale to Yosemite Park so Paul could scratch viewing a grove of purportedly tall trees from his "bucket list."  When we finally got to the Park [see California's crazy road discussion, above] we were told by the Park staff that no civilian Land Whales were allowed to visit the Tall Trees, forcing us to drive down 4 miles of crazy road in order to take one of the Park's even larger Land Whales back up to see them.  I forwent that opportunity, having seen several large trees in my life.  After the Park Land Whale took them up to see the Tall Trees and brouoght them back, I took the Land Whale back up the very same road in order to leave the Park.  Paul, Jocelyn and Eivind saw the Tall Trees and traveled the same eight miles twice.  The Park Land Whale was air conditioned, I am sure, but the reaction to the Tall Trees seemed nonplussed.

With the end of the day looming with nearly 200 miles to travel, we ate dinner at Todd's Barbeque Shack and headed south with a vague idea of where to spend the night.  Two Walmarts, a residential neighborhood, and a restaurant whose signs threatened us with towing and fines later, we settled on a truck stop by virtue of its space and claim to hot showers.  The rest of the crew hit the rack but I was compelled to obey what Calvin of "Calvin and Hobbes" calls the 'inscrutable exhortations of my soul' and try the shower.  The attendant took my $5 and she handed me a thin white towel that might have been from the days of the Eastern European Bloc nations, a paper bathmat that looked like it doubled as a place mat at a diner and a key on a long rubber bungee cord.  Unlocking the shower room, I saw what prison showers must really look like.  Squinting to avoid seeing things I would only have to tell you about, I luxuriated in the soothing hot dribble of water in the shower.  Sure, the sign on the door said that if showers exceeded 5 minutes, a showerer's deposit would be forfeit, but I had a couple days of Land Whale wrangling to get off me so I didn't care.  Imagine my delight, though, upon returning the bungee key when the attendant smiled and gave me three bucks back.  I recalled talking with Robert at Dell Artemis Farms about what constitutes 'luck' and noted this was an example he would have liked.