Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Friend for Life

I woke up this morning at 6:30, fully awake and excited to see my friend, Larry "A.J." Hanne.  Larry is a professor and researcher at Chico State University.   I met Larry back in the early '70's when I was an RA in Duniway Hall on The University of Montana campus.  Larry and his room-mate, John, arrived at UM from UC Davis as graduate students studying, respectively, biochemistry and microbiology.  Larry at one point acknowledged to his closer dorm-mates that his work was in research in gonorrhea, or "the gong," as he taught us to know it by.  He and John were quickly assimilated into an odd group of friends who were characterized by their love of cribbage and late night movies.  And Pinball.  We loved playing pinball at the UM Rec Center and eventually came to call ourselves the "River City Pinball Team" who wore team shirts with our nicknames on them.  Larry was known as "A.J" which was short for 'anti-juke' a pinball playing maneuver he claimed to have invented.  If  you ever saw him play, you know it's for real.

Of course, real friendship is much more than that.  It is time spent in conversation, sharing ideas, discussing issues as if they mattered, respecting another point of view, and, at the end of the day, knowing that if the chips were down, a friend is one person who would be there to do what a friend needs to do, no questions asked and without hesitation.  I would always want Larry to think I was that kind of friend because I know he is that kind of friend to me.  So, we might all ask, how come I haven't seen him or hardly talked to him in twenty years or so?  I don't know--time, distance, focus on our own lives--all these explain it but they don't excuse it.

Still, today when he rolled up at Woodleaf Farms to pick me up to go to breakfast, it was as if I hadn't seen him for a few days.  We fell right into our conversational patterns, laughing at all the right places, knowing the bumps in life we shared over a Denny's breakfast were grasped and understood and empathized with to just the right degree. We had a couple hours to catch up, but it wasn't enough after all these years.  Hell, it wasn't enough if it had been a couple of days.

I don't know what it is about the people I consider my truest and dearest friends.  They all seem so unlike me.  I cannot say what clicked to make us friends or make me care about them the way I do.  Do you have friends that are a mystery to you that way?  Like the women in my life that I have felt love for, each of my friends has a different perspective that enriches me, they have all taught me something about life, they have all made me want to be as good as they imagine I am.  Larry will always be my friend and it won't take me 20 years to see him again.

With Larry in front of the Land Whale

After Larry headed home it was time to head West with the next part of the Permie Tour 2012.  It was over to the Coast to visit Steve Hekeroth near Albion, California.

To get there means crossing the Central Valley of California, no mean feat even if you can avoid the farm vehicles and getting run up the backside by a semi with urgent business on the other side of you.  If that weren't enough, there were scores of miles over unbelievably windy roads which, if they weren't going up rather steeply, were going down rather steeply-er.  [See previous posts about my thoughts on the usefulness of brakes.] I am sure it was an oversight on Paul's part in picking out the Land Whale that does not include a 500 c.u. hemi motor and a tuned Ferrari suspension with the wide, super grippy Pirelli tires.  Sure would have helped today.  It was a good thing I had Eivind in the navigator's seat keeping me on course.  He called out the turns and directions in a timely, helpful way.  There is simply no telling you how big a difference that makes to my performance.

This part of our trip took us past a number of wineries without stopping.  I like wineries and the wine makers I have come across have a fairly solid land ethic and are good stewards.  They must pay attention to the soil, weather, water, seasons, fruit, etc. as much as any permaculturalist, I suppose, and many eschew use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.  They love bees and provide good bee habitat.  But they come from a tradition that is largely monoculturalist and so will never get the Paul Wheaton permacultural seal of approval.  Paul is not a wine drinker so his rigidity in this regard may be understood.

Oh, and another nice diversion...we stopped for a respite at Boonville and soon Paul came rushing back to the Land Whale saying, "Come quick!  I have found someone who wants to be famous in your blog!"  Up I jumped and followed Paul to the Boont Berry Farm (home of naturally fine foods!) where I met Jessica Ceja who loved what the Permie Tour was all about and wanted to join us. (Her co-worker, Taunia Green, was also very cool and hip to what we are doing, but she is OK in  Boonville for now.).  Too bad, Jessica, maybe next tour...still, Paul left her smiling:

Jessica of Boont Berry Farm and Big Paul

Back to the tour...Steve is perhaps best known for his work developing electric tractors.  Think about it: a machine that could be used in farm operations that would be powered by the electricity generated from sun or wind.  One less bundle of cash in the petroleum company's pocket and a bit cleaner planet.  Steve's experiences prove it is feasible and scalable to some degree which means that it is a technology to be shared and improvised and improved upon.Here is one example of one of Steve's electric tractors.  Yep, still in use on his farm.

A Steve Hekeroth Electric Tractor

Like all the farmers we have met on this tour, Steve is a creative visionary guy who delights in putting his thoughts and ideas to work through his own hands.  Here are some of the structures he has imagined and built.  First up, his home (below.)  You will note the tall structure is a water tower with a windmill that powers the pumps to get the tower filled with water.  Then it can be used by Steve's extensive gravity fed system to irrigate his gardens, etc.

Steve Hekeroth's home

 One of the VERY cool features Steve has on his place is a cement swimming pool that functions as a receptacle for water treated in a network of swales.  Taking impure water from grey systems, run-off, etc. and channeling it through the ponds that hold plants which take up and filter the bad stuff results in a pond with water clean enough to swim in --without use of chlorine! In addition to the pond itself, surrounded by plants feeding into it, the structure also includes a tree house (built in a living tree) linked to the mainland by a graceful cement bridge.  Other features in progress include a sauna with a hot tub on its roof which is, in turn, connected by a water slide to the pond, a diving board, a giant raft with a fire pit on it, art and other decorations.  As Steve walked up through the project, he quietly observed,  "A guy's gotta have some fun in his life."

The Ce-Ment Pond
While Steve's plants are hard at work doing their filtering, uptake thing, there is still a problem of algae growing in the pond.  Through a combination of aeration and time, Steve hopes to have the "ce-ment pond" suitable for swimming before long.

Eivind offered that Steve Hekeroth is a genius, and to that I would add Renaissance Man.  He seems both at ease and acutely aware of things he makes.  One example is this outhouse he built out of a stump.  From the outside it looks like something a hobbit might have fashioned.  Inside it's another story.  Not only is the commode beautiful, it is comfortable.  All hand-fashioned by Steve, it contains an innovative waste handling system that is both efficient, ecologically sound, essentially odorless and a wonder.
The seat of ease
Finally, we enjoyed a delightful dinner tonight with Steve and Anna, who is visiting to do some tweaking on the pond systems.  Like all the people we have met on the farms we have visited, Steve is gracious, humble, visionary and hospitable.  We see if that holds tomorrow when he and Paul put their noggins together for a podcast session.


  1. So...I'm working my way through Lord Wheaton's podcasts and arrived at the Steve Hekeroth podcast in which you reference this blog. I wasn't getting the dailyish email at the time you guys took this tour, so I'm glad you referenced it in the podcast. I thoroughly enjoy Paul's videos, podcasts, and permies, and I'm looking forward to reading through your blog of the tour. Your profile picture looks rather familiar, maybe you quoted Robert Burns in on of Paul's videos on portable RMH? Well, thanks for blogging. Even though the tour is over, I'm looking forward to reading and adding perspective to the podcasts

  2. I enjoyed reading your writings and listening to the podcasts here; maybe you would enjoy listening to my music that I would like to share?

    I am glad to find other individuals with like-minded reasoning when living on this earth.