Thursday, November 25, 2010

A spiritual quest for potatoes

So much catching up to do. With Richard on vacation from work, we have been going nonstop.

On Monday we loaded up the family in the big old truck, hooked up Lucky, the handy trailer, and headed over the pass to the San Luis Valley to pick up potatoes for the Canon Co-op at an organic farm. I was excited. I hadn't been to Salida since we went to their big art festival when I was pregnant with my three year old daughter. I enjoyed the little town then, with its art-friendly attitude, and we had recently been reading about the local food movement that was occurring there as well. A town after my own heart. Was this a place we could ultimately relocate? (I'm always keeping my eyes open for my own personal Shangra-la or Cicely, Alaska, for us Northern Exposure fans.)

Let me tell you, it is hard, so very hard, living life on the fringe and being looked at by the mainstream like you have two heads. Wouldn't it be nice to be welcomed into a community that was already established as spiritual, environmentally conscious, art friendly, educated, open-minded, healthy, etcetera, etcetera...? I have dreams. Not that anyone has thrown stones...not in this decade anyway (when I was young and sported a mohawk, someone once threw a tennis ball at me from a passing car), but I am always leery about telling anyone too much about myself and my belief system for fear of being persecuted or ostracized. I am an outsider in my own family and it is a rare day indeed when I can  meet someone who gets it, someone on the path to enlightenment, someone with whom I feel safe enough with to finally let down my guard.

Isn't it an odd thing to be looked down upon for not eating red meat, or not following the established rituals of a mindless religion? Wouldn't it be wonderful to find the Utopia where everyone was equal and lived a life based on enlightenment and healing the planet and saving humanity from its current course of extinction, a place where the community understood the importance of raising our children not as capitalistic sheep to be led to the next mini-mall, but as stewards of our planet, including the soil, air, water and creatures who share it. Where is this mythical place? For a while I thought it was Taos, and Taos is getting closer, but how could I reconcile myself with the fact that the Taos mountain kicked me out? Anyway, I keep looking, trying to decipher the spiritual clues to the location of my heaven on earth ( I know, I know, it isn't a place) and I had been wondering recently if Salida might be it, at least for me?

Also on this trip, we were going into the massive alpine valley of San Luis, where I knew some sort of spiritual movement was taking place. There is Crestone of course, which we did visit a few years back, and turned out not to be my spot to permanently move, although some would swear it is the spiritual place to be. Maybe it is for them, and they are definitely doing some good work there, but with the freezing winter temperatures, and the "feelings" or lack of, really, that I had when we visited, I knew Crestone would not be the place I spent the rest of my life.

But could I have been wrong? Maybe just somewhere in the San Luis Valley was my little piece of high desert heaven. If the aliens found it interesting enough to make frequent stops, there must be some valuable energy floating between the two mountain ranges that I was missing.

So a trip to the Valley via Salida was welcome, but never justified in expense and fuel use, until now, when we could run a worthwhile errand, which we made even more productive by responding to an ad on Craigslist that was selling really cheap straw bales in the San Luis Valley. Potatoes and straw. That was our main focus, with a little bit of spiritual journeying on the side for myself.

So Monday, we ended up driving through the canon to Salida. The roads had a bit of snow and ice around the curves of the highway that were hidden from the sun, and I was struck by how much the drive reminded me of the trip from Taos to Santa Fe, with the river snaking along beside the twisting road. Well, that was okay then, and except for the dusting of snow and the looming dark clouds ahead, I was in a great mood. We stopped at a little store a Co-op friend had recommended on the outskirts of Salida. It was a bizarre place with really cheap food and items, kind of like a bargain store with dinged up cans and day old discounts, but this place had flour and sugar in bags made of printed cotton material. Where did this stuff come from?

It was freezing when we left the warm cab of the pick-up, and I couldn't think straight. I couldn't focus on spiritual feelings when I was trying to keep myself and two toddlers from getting frostbite on the five yard dash to the front door of the tiny little store. I didn't find anything I needed to have, but Richard found a few bargains when I left him alone and returned the kids to the warm truck to eat our prepared lunch of homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I also had the two chihuahuas on this trip and had to take them out to the potty, at which time, which they glared at me and shivered because I had forgotten their winter coats.

We drove through Salida a bit, into the historic downtown, still full of art galleries and outdoor shops, but nothing really grabbed me and we didn't stop. I was still angry at being cold. I hate being cold more than anything. I just wanted to be on our way. The clouds were looking ominous and I wanted to make it back to the other side of the mountains before the snow started to fly. I hate driving on icy roads about as much as I hate being cold, and now I was ready to go home and be warm with a nice cup of hot cocoa flavored coffee. Forget this trip, forget the potatoes. My mood was getting as dark as the clouds, and I just closed my eyes as we headed out of town, trying to eliminate snow packed sections of the highway from my view, from my reality.

When we got through the pass at Poncha Springs and headed south into the Valley, things got better. As the sun came out and the roads cleared and the sagebrush began to pop up on the prairie outside my window, my bad mood eased and I began to enjoy the scenery. Now it was better, kind of like the drive to Taos from Ft Garland, and I began to feel a sense of peace come over me. I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and envisioned a passive solar house in sage where I could just sit and soak up the winter rays without having to step out into the reality of freezing temperatures. Based upon my feelings on leaving the higher mountain passes and cold, cold environment, Salida does not seem like my next Utopia.

We came into Mosca without incident and pulled up to the gas station where we would meet the farmer (?) who was selling the organic potatoes. Some man loaded a couple of bags of Quinoa grain into the back of the truck and then we were driving back across the highway to the farm where potatoes were being cleaned and loaded into bags and boxes. Lots of potatoes. 
There was a huge truck full of potatoes just from the field and a strange hopper/conveyor thing that loaded the potatoes, and moved them inside the building. I'm not sure where or how they were cleaned and sorted, but they were. Our potatoes came in 50 pound bags and 50 pound boxes, which went into the horse trailer. Now I was concerned that with the cold weather, the potatoes would freeze. Good thing our next stop was for lots of straw that we could insulate the potatoes with.

I asked the lady that we did our potato business with how cold the temperatures really got in the Valley. She said there is usually at least one solid month where night time temps fall from -20 to -40 degrees F in the winter. But of course the sunny days could get up to 40 or 50 degrees F, like so many other high desert Colorado or New Mexico places. Sure, great. Nights are too cold. Even if I built an awesome passive solar house, it was still too cold for me to function. Maybe I better keep searching for my special place.

Mt Blanca
We continued south and then east into Blanca, the town named for the snow covered mountain that was the backdrop to almost everything in the valley. Richard likes to take pictures of this mountain. he says it is one of the most photogenic mountains in Colorado. Being from Texas, I think he is awestruck by this mountain as it seems to be a stereotype of the perfect Colorado mountain. It is a pretty mountain, as long as I can stay far enough away from the cold snow I see piled on its peaks.

We found our straw at a farm south of town and on the way there we noticed a field full of birds. "Geese," said Richard. But I looked a little closer and noticed they weren't geese at all, but a field full of about three hundred Sandhill Cranes. Amazing.I'd never seen more than two Sandhill Cranes in any given place, at any given time. As we loaded straw into the pickup bed and trailer, I could hear the cranes talking amongst themselves, and it sounded like there was a wild bird refuge in this man's backyard.

I could feel a palpable excitement building within me and as soon as we were finished with the straw, I had to sneak as close as I could to the field of birds to snap a few photos. Unfortunately, I haven't had access to an SLR camera for years and I couldn't get close enough to the cranes to get a decent shot. They were incredible, raising their wings and flapping, bumping chests like my guineas at play. Richard tried his hand at pictures from the truck, and then, the birds took off. They all started to fly. I felt like I was in a nature program in Africa, watching the birds take off, perfectly orchestrated.

That old homestead in Blanca
I was having a moment of pure natural joy, just watching those birds, and when I saw the old, abandoned homestead at the end of the road, my first thought was I could live there. There was an old adobe house, outbuildings, including an old grain silo I could turn into an art studio (see Mother Earth News for ideas on how to turn silos into houses.) And, there were the birds, the glorious birds. There was Mt Blanca to look at and the sage surrounding this small farm. I could live there, I thought again. But it's not for sale and the temperatures are probably just as cold in Blanca as they are in most of the San Luis Valley.

We headed back up to Canon city the long way, over La Veta pass, trying to avoid any snow or impending storms. We drove through La Veta, another burgeoning art community, which has grown significantly since the last time I was there maybe seven years ago. It is still quaint, but I imagine the prices for property are rising as it becomes the new trendy spot. The coolest part of that drive was passing a herd of cows heading back to their barn for the night, and when I thought they were going to walk into the road just as we pulled up, I was surprised to see them disappear entirely. They were crossing from one pasture to another, under the road through an enormous culvert. Ingenious!

We got home after dark, dropped off the potatoes and got the little kids into bed. Overall, I was pretty happy to be home, back in my warm little house where the outside temperatures never fall to -40 degrees. Sure, it isn't exactly where I want to end up, but if we do end up staying here forever, I'll be okay with it, and I can  take an occasional drive into the sage filled lands of New Mexico every now and then to feed my soul. Here, we are building community and the people we are meeting are wonderful, and it turns out, maybe not so different from me after all.

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