El Morro and Friends

spence here!  hello friends!  we’re still alive and doing really well.  we have been busy in a country sort of way, getting our solar electric system for the spartan trailer up and running, (lights!) water collecting, (through our new rain water cachement system!) chopping wood, slogging through mud, getting our van pulled out of the snow, pulling others out and making music and art!

slowly i’ve been piecing things together (and yes, processing!) my feelings about our summer. our hike was truly an adventure, as were many of the things before and after (working crazy hours to save up, saying goodbye, thwarted by snow, surfing, hiking out, traveling to new mexico and setting up here).  i have had some time to reflect.  i realized part of the difficulty i had while we were hiking wasn’t just the altitude or maybe the flu, but it was my attitude. all spring of 2012 all i could manically focus on was the trail.  i worked all the time and when i wasn’t working i was researching–looking at maps, planning, visualizing and dreaming of the thank you cards i would write when we finally reached the top of mt. whitney. i know, pretty arrogant, but that is what was happening. all the while i forgot about my own reasons and my own rules for wanting to be in the wilderness in the first place… love of nature, slowing down, appreciating my own breath…the cold dew in the morning, the plants and animals, feeling my own muscles carry me forward and most of all, basic love of living.  how could i forget all that really mattered in the midst of such beauty and circumstance? i hardly took the time to slow down and reflect. i was too busy going, doing, completing and the worst of all human traits, thinking about myself the whole time. i thought about how the trail would help me grow, help my knee get strong, help my depression,  and make me a better person.  i was looking to conquer myself. at the end of it all, i realized i was the same person as always and this made me foolish and small–but also, it made me human and awake. it made it so i didn’t accomplish “my goals” of completing the john muir trail or climbing mt. whitney.  however, ironically, i can’t tell you how many “outside magazine” articles i’ve read about “man” and his quest to bag said peak and how saddened and annoyed it made me.  so the good news is, by getting sick and not being able to fulfill those goals on my list, i realized a new set of entities about how i want to live–of which i obviously needed to learn. over and over again, it is not the end result, but how it is to live along the way.

all of my thoughts have waned recently towards a desire to slow down.  i have been acutely aware of how fast-paced life can be and how even in the country, it is a challenge to avoid overwhelming busy-ness. my favorite times out here are when we rise with the sun, make coffee, write, eat homemade bread with local eggs, help the neighbors, write songs, take hikes up the mesas and stay up late drinking homemade brew, talking about queer theory! i appreciate being able to work at the local businesses here as well, helping out the community, of which we are fast becoming apart of, and expressing our life through art.

i am looking forward to yet another new chapter this year–our epic house-sitting gig. our wonderful neighbors have decided to move temporarily for work.  another dichotomous situation that will be good but sad, for they will be missed exponentially. billy and i are honored to take care of their farm and home while they are away. it has been awhile since i felt at “home” and i am looking forward to settling a bit.  i am really looking forward to keeping the chickens happy, as well as tending to the earth in the way i have always wanted to. this spring we will be trying to grow as much food as we can in the garden, the southwestern high desert way. more soon!

Billy here. It seems like a lot of time has passed in the last six months! Country life has been amazing. Lots of farm animals, sunsets, starry nights, cold sleeping bags, hot apple pies right out of the oven, brewing beer, singing of songs and winter cabin fever!

Last summer when we landed from the trail we spent a while fixing up the old “Mansion”, the 1949 Spartan aircraft trailer, including putting down some parquet flooring, hooking up a humble solar power system and some water catchment to collect rain and snow off our roof into a 300 gallon tank. We found some old “Mad Max” 45 watt solar panels laying around Max’s land, which were cracked but still working, so we bought a little inverter, a solar charger and one deep cycle marine battery to just get some lights and charge our electronics. The first Cobra inverter we bought blew an internal fuse, so we had to return it, but the replacement has been working just fine, even through the -27 degree cold snap we experienced in early January. If you haven’t yet read about the polar vortex splitting early this year, causing extra chill in North America, it’s a fascinating and disturbing story.

Between all the house and farm sitting, it seemed like getting settled and set up in the trailer took a while, but we finally got some lights strung up and about 150 gallons in the catchment tank now. I found some part time work at the little Ancient Way Cafe near El Morro National Monument and put up some art at the Old School Gallery. Recently Max and I played for a Songwriter’s Round benefit for the Gallery and we hope to record an album this year of original material. We have a nice little mini studio set up at Max’s house. He got an Alesis audio dock for his iPad and a wonderful DAW (digital audio workstation) style app called Auria, which works remarkably well and has great sound, in addition to using very little electricity so it is easily run on solar power.We plug our two MXL condenser mics into it and record everything two tracks at a time and it seems to work well enough. Playing the benefit show was a huge confidence boost since the audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive. I started the night being so nervous that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to play a show again, but every time I play a show I remember why I write and play music. A channel opens through me. If matter is the manifestation of the symmetry of space, then music is how we sense that symmetry, one of the most primal and necessary of arts.

Now we are honored to take care of our neighbor’s place while they are away and I am excited about planting my very first garden. I have helped others with their gardens and helped out on farms, but this will be the first time in my life I get to be solely responsible for a garden, which feels amazing. It’s something I have needed in my life for a while, with all of the uprootedness traveling and not having a home of my own. It seems like a new beginning and a way to really connect with where I am on Earth. We have been talking about rewilding as opposed permaculture, about how much capacity the desert has to support this many humans. A local permaculture farm, run by the folks who literally wrote the book on permaculture in this area, ended up drying up their well and moving away. What is sustainable here is not necessarily food security for a growing population of humans, but seems to us rather a rewilding of what already thrives here. While food forest gardens under fruit orchards is a wonderful and beautiful method, out here that method requires so much water that long term use would strain the ground water supplies for the wild ecosystems that are already in place. So what we have decided is to help the natural gambel oak stands flourish and spread habitats for the cottontail, deer, elk, pale wolfberry, and yucca, all of which are edible by humans as well. Also, we have decided to stick purely to things that thrive out here naturally without too much extra water, like amaranth, sunchoke, orach and sunflower, rather than try to heap extra resources on non-native crops, like tomatoes, melons and fruit trees. Masanobu Fukuoka’s book Sowing Seeds in the Desert is on its way in the mail. Now we just have to wait for the hard freeze to lift and spring to come.

One thought on “El Morro and Friends

  1. Hello Spence and Billy, I am so moved by your beautiful description of your growth and reflections on your journey. I have recently gone through something similar and have quit my French class and gone back to doing art. Thank you for sharing these powerful reflections. We have all undertaken and are continuing to rearrange old notions and build new views from the experiences. Life is incredibly rich! here’s a recent drawing http://www.flickr.com/photos/7716518@N05/8445057328/in/photostream Hugs to you both! Judith

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