Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rain and a whole lot of mud.

The monsoons have arrived, which means it rains nearly every afternoon, and sometimes well into the evening. Lots of lightening, which always scares me (too many extended family members'd think it ran in the family...I do my best to avoid the lightening!), and thunder, which scares my dogs. Last night was a mighty powerful storm that even got my Great Pyrenees, Honey, sticking to my side like glue, while the Chihuahua shook and tried to jump in my arms. The lightening was so close, I thought for sure it hit nearby, but we never saw anything on fire.

We were rather involved with our cistern problem while the thunder boomed and the rain came down. You'd think with so much rain, our cisterns would be quite full, but not the case at all. Our daily use cistern was apparently close to empty and the water was sputtering at the kitchen sink as the pump tried to pull in more water. So as it rained, Richard ran the generator, hooked up the portable pump and transferred the stash of water from the non working cistern to the cistern that lets water into the house. Unfortunately, it seems the pump in the house managed to pull some sediment into the pipes, clogging them somewhere, which meant we had no water coming in, even with water in the cisterns! So, while I paced frantically, wondering who to call at 8pm, Richard tried to blow out the pipes with his compressor. When that didn't work, he hooked up the shop vac, alternating between blowing air through, and sucking water back. Eventually something gave, the filters were full of gunk and after cleaning out the filters and working the shop vac, we had a trickle of water coming in at 10pm. Hey, some water is better than no water!

Today Richard is up at Cerro Vista Farm doing his volunteer day, and when he comes home, it's back to cleaning the filters and trying to get the water flowing again.

Tesuque Pueblo Seedbank
So, our evening was full of cistern fun, but our day was full of mud plastering at the seedbank on Tesuque Pueblo. That was a lot of fun and we learned how to mix the mud for the outside walls (clay, sand, straw, water) and Amy Lin (the natural builder in charge of the project) taught us how to apply the plaster. This was the second or third coat, so it was pretty painless, and rather therapeutic...smearing the mud with bare hands, although after a couple of hours, I was developing a blister on the heal of my hand from the tiny rocks in the mixture.

Richard putting on the mud.
Everyone working on the seedbank project was very friendly and Emigdio Ballon, the man in charge of the farm project, gave us a tour of the inside and the basement, where the seeds will be stored. The basement foundation is made of bailed tires, the sidewalls of the building are strawbale, with some adobe block in front. Insulation downstairs was straw and clay--very cool. We learned a lot and also got to see the farm project and orchards at the Pueblo. Very nice.

Even the kids can help with this job!

On the way home, we encountered  a rainstorm that caused flooding and left piles of hail on the side of the roads. Where? About 6 miles down the road from our land in Carson. While it was tempting, since we missed a workday out at our place, we decided not to venture down the muddy road and went home instead.

Yeah, it's stuck.

While we didn't get out to the land much this past week, we did make it out last Saturday for a bit. We took a load of gravel for the Earthbag cistern.

Rain. Did I mention how much rain we have been getting?

We got the car and trailer stuck in the mud in the road trying to get to our property. Luckily it was only a few hundred feet from our driveway, which made it easier, but not pleasant, to carry the tools and buckets of gravel to our building project.

As we were ferrying equipment, our volunteer friends showed up, walking down the road. Their little car only makes it so far down the road, thankfully, and they didn't get stuck in the mud. Our road is a high vehicle clearance sort of road, and four wheel drive is helpful, although, not so much in the case of a ton of gravel in a trailer planted at least six inches in soft mud.

We opted to leave the car in the road (not much traffic here) and work on our shade structure for a while, hoping to give the mud a chance to dry a bit.

We only had enough funds to buy half the metal roofing this time, but when its up, one half of the shade structure will be done and provide shade and water runoff. Hopefully next payday, we can finish the roof.

Due to more clouds building, we quit early and focused our energy on getting the car and trailer out before the next rain came and the car became a permanent fixture in the Taos mud.

With a bit of arguing about the best plan of action, Richard decided to empty the trailer, while I focused on building a gravel road under the tires of the car to give the four by four some traction. My plan was to run strips of gravel out of the ruts to allow the car to drive up onto the high parts of the roads and avoid more deep mud. With the trailer almost empty, and the rain bearing down on us, Richard, David, Simone and I shoveled gravel furiously into the road and under the tires, and you know, with all of our combined ideas and efforts, it worked, we got the car and trailer out before the storm rolled in!

Leveling the cistern trench.
After so much fun, David and Simone decided to head back to their car before the rain came. One day of hailstorms in their tent was enough for them. Richard and I stayed while it rained gently for about a half hour. Richard got the roof metal on the shed structure and my son and I leveled the cistern trench and filled it with the gravel Richard and David had carried from the trailer.

Gravel in the cistern trench.

With the rain every day, I'm not sure when we will be able to get back out to our land. I hope David and Simone are not stuck out there. (They have our number.) Most likely, they are enjoying some in town time.

Trailer full of pallets.
We did pick up another load of pallets from the local lumbar/hardware store. After the pallet shed gets done, I want to try and make a hay barn and pick up some hay for the winter before the prices go back up to $18 a bale!

The old truck is missing its gas tank as Richard tries to clean the sediment and corrosion out with white vinegar ( a tip from the local machine shop).
Otherwise we could be hauling gravel and pallets in the truck...assuming it didn't just die on the side of the road.

That old truck, broken down again.

Everyday is an adventure here in Northern New Mexico, but I wouldn't have it any other way. gives life some excitement and meaning! This next weekend we are planning on going to another mud plaster party at another Earthbagger's,  house on the mesa. Should be fun, and now we even have some experience!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Building shade in the hot NM sun

Richard and Simone make trusses
We have been working hard on building our shade structure out on our land. The hot desert sun is brutal when you spend so many hours in it. Luckily we have some volunteers that have come all the way from Maryland to help us build some sustainable buildings on our land. David and Simone have set up camp out at our place, and on the days we get out there, they have been an enormous help with our projects. They are looking for volunteer opportunities in the area, projects they can learn earth building techniques. They are former Wwoofers and even taught English in Korea for a while. We are lucky they came out to visit us in New Mexico.

putting the trusses up on the shade structure

trusses up

While everyone else was working on the trusses, I was building a lattilla fence out of recycled Christmas trees we got from Native Scents, who also gave us pallets and earthbags. Simone helped me lay out the fence and measure where it should go, and we all spent time cutting the nubs off the lattillas so they would fit closer together. This is my first attempt at a Coyote fence, and I think it turned out rather well. It should serve its purpose of blocking the wind from our shade structure. Hopefully the kids will be able to eat lunch without their sandwiches blowing away!
David, trimming lattillas
Coyote Fence/windblock
Busy days indeed. The pallet shed was also started and I am hopeful it will turn out well. We are planning on putting one of the free windows we picked up in the south wall of the shed. This building will serve as a makeshift bathroom and storage for materials for projects. After we get the walls up and the roof on, we are planning to cob the outside. Should be fun!
The beginning of the pallet shed.
That wall is almost done.

And since the shade structure is about done, no time was lost on beginning the trench for the Earthbag Cistern project. We should have metal roof on the shade structure this weekend, which means...we can catch rain! So, the Earthbag Cistern project is underway. Richard plans on having folks come out on Saturdays to help out and learn the skills of Earthbag building.

Digging the Earthbag cistern trench.

Also on our fun filled fourth of July, the kids found a new "bug" on our land. "Is this bug okay Mom?" No, definitely not okay.

Scorpion crawling
Didn't know New Mexico had scorpions. This high? At 7500 feet? Scary. This is the first scorpion I have ever seen. Welcome to the desert!

Inside Taos Mesa Brewing Co.
We also had a fun filled previous two weeks. We attended the opening of Taos Mesa Brewing, which was awkward because we didn't know a single person there, but the building was very cool. They used many recycled materials in the construction of this wonderful space. Should be a great place to have live music.  They even have a labyrinth in front, and I may have to go back when there isn't a crowd or kids to chase after and try it again. Another road to the inner self.

Quonset hut style building. Taos Mesa Brewing Co.
labyrinth at Taos Meas Brewing Co
My son, climbing into the dome/greenhouse.
We also attended a Thrive Taos meeting at a member's house, which was more fun than I expected to have. We brought dirt/compost in our trailer from a ranch another member is living on, and with other Thrive members, we began construction of a greenhouse inside of a small geodesic dome. It was a potluck with great food and awesome company, and I can't wait to do it again...Richard called off work so we could go to this one and take our out of town volunteers to meet some of the locals.

Bo, teaching the kids some archery.
We also attended a barbeque out on the mesa at our friend and fellow Earthbagger, Susan's bus. Another piece of the local Taos scene. Gotta love it.  If you open yourself to the experiences, life is never dull, especially in the wonderful, wacky world that is Taos.

On a side note, and also a very important part of the past two hometown of Colorado Springs was in danger of burning in the Waldo Canyon Fire. Very bad. 346 houses lost on the westside of town. Friends and family were evacuated, but thankfully no one close to me was hurt or lost their home. Unfortunately, many families did lose their homes, and my heart goes out to them. So, while I was running about in my desert, mountain town, I was spending every free moment monitoring the fire and checking in with my daughter and mother and friends who were way to close to the fire for comfort. The West is burning. The Waldo Canyon Fire is 90% contained as I write this, but numerous other fires are still burning in the west, including in NM. The temperatures are above normal, setting new records. We are in the beginnings of a new world environment...welcome to global warming. Are we going to be able to make it through this? As I cried over the mountains in my hometown burning, I thought...we aren't ready for this yet. So many people are still unaware, in denial and completely unprepared for the changes that are coming.

At least here in Taos, we have found a community that practices survival and is learning to become more sustainable. Everywhere, around the world, we must come together and teach each other what we know and how to get by, as the world becomes more chaotic and frightening. We can still turn this thing around...if we believe we can. 100 monkeys. Get on the path to enlightenment...find your inner self, connect with the Universe and be the change.