Life in the Valley

I am still on my quest to live a cash-free existence. But it is not going as planned. I am still working to pay down my loans (coming due each month to the tune of $200) and need money to help keep the family in food and house. I have managed, in my 5 or 6 months here, to greatly expand my social network, to the point that, if I so desired, feed myself without the need for money. Plenty of farmers with plenty of work in this verdant Valley to support a few work-for-fooders. 

With a recent collaborator, Jay, I’ve managed to get involved in several garden spaces around Guinda, and the greens are blowin’ up! Jay keeps a garden behind a friend’s house and is a prolific tender, yielding several bags of greens, radishes, carrots and more each time we go to work the small holding. Another space he has available is slowing becoming what we’ve termed, The Hideaway, which will ultimately be a model for stewarding a tropical microclimate in this usually dry Valley. There we are practicing what we have started to call Biodesic Agricology (a mouthful of portmanteaulic syllables, to be sure, and one to be described in a future post). There, also, he keeps his chickens, and we’ve been trying to allow Mack to gain familiarity with them. 

Me and Mack on a hill at Frost Ranch

Me and Mack

For Mack, my dog, is an avid chicken-chaser. For him, a chicken is a chew toy that makes noise, runs away, and eventually falls silent and limp. Not a good tendency in this Valley of free-range chicken farmers. Research I’ve done does not bode well for dogs who chase chickens. My father had to put down more than a couple of his own dogs when they started killing the neighbors chickens. While people in the States would not be likely to suggest such an end for Mack, the point is clear. NO CHICKEN CHASING. Through a meandering system of desensitization, punishment, and alternate stimulation for his hunting instincts, I hope to ultimately teach Mack that chickens just aren’t worth the trouble. If it doesn’t work, well, he’ll be a leash-dog when out and about.   

Mack is a cross-breed that looks like a mutt. He came to me from the East, by way of Spreadwing Farm and his previous human, Brie. His veterinary paperwork calls him a Malamute, but really, he’s a mix of Wire-Haired Pointer and Husky. He’s tall and lanky with giant feet. He’s mostly black but has a gold goatee and a white chest. He likes to chase sticks and chew them to tiny bits, so I’m thinking maybe he can be put to work mulching my property — however slowly.  People love him, and he has a similar temperament as I — capable of great energy one moment, contentedly curled on the hardwood floor the next. He loves puppies and babies, but could do without the daily harassment of the resident 7 year old (who’s awesome too, in his own way).

Mack keeps me warm at night in the van where I sleep, nestled amongst the down comforter and thick-spun cotton blankets that cover my bed. The Beaver Den is what I call my little house on the edge of the field and it has come along. It needs a new roof to replace the hastily placed (but surprisingly spry) first incarnation. I tend to bump my head on the rough shapes of oak limbs stretched from my van to my walls, and it creaks and leaks when it’s storming hard. But it has held up well these past months, especially considering the plastic baling-twine used to tie it down.

I continue in my plan to make of my corner a lush and verdant paradise, a glade amongst the grey pines and blue oaks, which come sprouting up from my garden beds to eventually fill in the canopy. I progress in my designs for a sunken bed ideal for this climate, integrating passive irrigation, water storage, and nutrient cycling into the next version, hand built from start to end. If you’re following my Facebook page, you may have seen the new bed in a photo or three. 

There is so much going on, so many plans to be brought to fruition, such a community growing that I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to leave this place. 

 

 

Greetings from the Present

Good afternoon all,

I have not been using the ticky-tacky to refine my thoughts and experiences, but instead the skritchy-scratchy of hand-made notes. Thus, I would like this opportunity to share some of my words with you, written by pen in the moment, rather than by keyboard in summary.

1/30/14

I have torn pages from this journal and made it my own. Repurposed, I suppose, from the lost and then found material I hold in my hands. I have managed to fill many of my nights recently with social activity, to the point where nights spent at home feel nearly fruitless. Is it programming that makes me feel that the day should be productive and the night “relaxing”? There are many productive activities I might be undertaking at night, but am not. Not least working on Saddle Sacks, crafting the Guimsey Hill website, practicing guitar or painting. But where in the house might I do this?
I enjoy common spaces, but they have the added burden of being shared by many, and as such they belong to many and must be kept available. My space is my Beaver Den, far from the invigorating influence of babbling voices and laughter. To be honest, though, being inside is a damper on my creativity and my inspiration. Ideal would be a common workspace where people can be co-motivated to accomplish individual and shared goals.
There are others in this Valley looking to make a living from the fruits of their labor, but the majority seem to be hangerson to the leftover and overflows of more “successful” individuals. These people feed, clothe, and house our number, if ony by providing monetary income by which to pay for such things. Better to be directly connected to the providers of our lives by exchanging products and services. Better to join forces with the fellow unemployed to make something larger than ourselves; to provide for the larger community of cash and credit. But NOT to provide tchotchkes or luxury goods. We must ensure that our collective actions are of a benefit to the environment in which we live, either by utilizing so-called wastes in the creation of wealth or by replacing a perceived need with a more conscionable alternative. 
There are many “wastes” in the production of agricultural goods. Not least the low hanging fruit of unsellable produce. But there are also abundant sources of organic materials which could be put to use supplying this Valley with much needed inputs. Biochar, compost, mulch, humus, soil. These are all of benefit to the larger environment. So too are the ideas and experiences of successful desert farmers, ranchers, and peoples. 

Hiking 1

Head Down, Eyes Forward

 

Heartsteading

 

 

 

I have not written in a while. Some of that is busyness, some of that is laziness. Although, honestly, I haven’t really felt like writing much. I’ve committed to being here for a year, starting sometime in early December of 2013. While I will definitely be here until next December, the question remains as to my remaining presence thereafter. I may find enough reasons to stay longer, and I am busily growing roots and forming ties to make sure that my year here is worthwhile. 

Below are some photos taken of my little homestead in the past few days. Mostly, I’ve been working on earthscaping my patch. This means digging swales, irrigation channels, and lowered beds.

First Swale

My First Swale!

Swales are dug along the contour of a slope to slow and capture water. This is especially important given the conditions of the field above. It is almost entirely devoid of ground cover vegetation and it slopes down towards the van. Also, storing the water in the ground is key given our extremely dry winter this year. In large rain events, the swale may flow over into an overflow channel at one end. I may use this water to fill a pond or dig another swale below this one on the slope.

Or I may use the water to fill a dendritic irrigation system like the one pictured below.

DendritesBranching channels ensure an even spread of water through the landscape with flooding induced in specific regions. Given the hardness of the clay rich soil, I first incised a small channel with a broad hoe, then filled it with water. As the water settles, the ground gets much softer, allowing the channel to be dug deeper. I repeated the process until I had the desired effect. In recent days, I’ve allowed the channel to run dry, as it is especially well suited to watering the root systems of plants in the forks of the channels. Until those systems have grown enough to take advantage, however, I’ve found surface watering to be more effective. Watering efficiently is pretty key as I only have about 20 gallons to use a day from our house-well. 
In an effort to maximize the effective use of water, I’ve built several garden beds. You’ll see two in the below image. 
Two Beds

A Tale of Two Beds

The background bed is one I built several months ago. At first I tried to dig down into the dirt to create a ground level hugelkultur bed, but wasn’t willing to wait. So I enlisted the family and piled a bunch of horse poop on there. I’ve been watering every couple days for a while now, and am waiting to see what comes up. I planted canna lillies, comfrey, and black radishes and have some grasses and alfalfa growing up. I’m hoping that rooting plants will help break up the clay below for future plantings. 

The foreground bed is designed to retain water and built somewhat like an old-school pond. I dug down a couple of feet over the course of a week or so — soaking, digging, soaking, digging, tarping up overnight to retain moisture. Then I recruited my cousin Gabe to help me “puddle” it. That is, watering until the dirt starts puddling, then stomping around, trying to build up a solid clay layer on the bottom and along the sides. I lined the bottom with sticks to break down over time (ala a hugelkultur bed) and layered horse poop and leaves, making sure to soak each layer. Cardboard placed on top serves as a moisture and weed barrier, and the top layer of manure and leaves finishes the lasagna. To reduce evaporation, a loosely placed brush structure over the top shades the bed and reduces the impact of hot dry winds.

I’ll be continuing to earthscape, water strategically, and expand my little garden.

RAIN! I NEED YOU TO COME DOWN ON ME NOW. 

Sorry. That needed to be said.

Peace

 

Building a Home Requires Endurance

Feeling that ECD (existential continuity deficiency) acting up again. There are so many amazing places and amazing people in the world doing amazing things. I am struck by it every time I start researching Permaculture or Natural Building or any of a whole myriad of topics that I am trying to embody with my lifestyle. 

The people I am surrounded by are undoubtedly amazing…but there’s a feeling I get at the end of a long night where I have mostly been waiting for sleep for the past 3 hours that is hard to deny. The feeling of loneliness, inactivity, and I hate to say it, boredom.  The community (if one can call it that) that exists in this Valley typically requires that one travel to another’s home, and usually an event or an excuse is called for. Call ahead, make an appointment, but by no means show up unannounced. 

This is not to say that I don’t have hopes for this place. I am inching towards dedicating some solid chunk of my life to being here, and have had amazing experiences in the past months that vindicate this impending decision. But I look at these pictures and imagine these other lives that seem so much more fulfilling than the one I am leading. It’s back to the grass being greener over there

The irony is that there ARE amazing people in this Valley that have the skills and predilections and passions I long to surround me. Hell, there are people living in this house that embody some of those things. But the natural building guru who lives down the street…lives down the street and I have neither the wherewithal or the foresight to seek out his advice and company.  The awesome couple that literally lives 2 minutes away that helped me realize some of the potential for living here long term I haven’t seen since that fateful night 3 weeks ago. My fault? Theirs? Life’s? Who knows.

I just know that sometimes I feel that it would be easier, and in many ways preferable to go to where the community I long for is alive and THRIVING, not just dreamed of and hoped for. Or go somewhere where I know the people and I will connect on a fundamental level. Where I don’t have to continually argue the case that modern agriculture is tantamount to enslavement of lifeforms; where using Nature as a model is a given, not a revolutionary ideal. 

I am not giving up. I am not moving away. I am not running from myself.  I am settling in, and hearing the creaks of the various weights of my life finding their balance. Those people whose lives I envy, the situations I wish I were in, the things that I could be doing somewhere else would inevitably pale and I’d have to move on yet again. Better to stay and fight through the ennui to the peace beyond.  The peace of knowing that I am exactly where I should be.

And I am.

Let’s Get It Started

Almost two months again, my dad’s cousin’s daughter moved in to Tailfeather Ranch with her three kids. If that sounds complicated, don’t worry. It is.
The official familial relationships are as follows: Keli (the Mom) is my 2nd Cousin; her kids are my 2nd Cousins Once Removed.

Keli came here from Costa Rica where she was slowly spiralling into the dark abyss of depression, loneliness, and a general lack of purpose. Whatever the reasons, when she and the kids visited us here in California in July she saw a glimmer of hope. That mere glimmer quickly turned into a major branch of new possibilities. And here they are, 2 months later, just in time for the kids to start the new year at school.

The kids are Gabriel (16), Gloria (14), and Peter (6), and they’re great. Witty, funny, caring, kind. Say what you want, the life they were leading in Costa Rica has sure formed them all into some pretty awesome people. Gabriel plays the guitar better than me and is slowly growing into his reinvention of himself.  Gloria loves the Beatles, has a wicked sense of humor, and watches out for Peter.  Who, incidentally, goes by Captain Scallywag when he’s wielding his sword, jacket, hat, and PJs — all thrift-store buys, by the way.

They’re here to stay. My dad is effectively signing over the house for the foreseeable future, contingent only on a small contribution to the mortgage, and a promise of working toward a common vision for this beautiful 10 acre spread. 

Keli and I have been spending a lot of time together, sharing visions of the future of this valley and this land, gleaning pine nuts and almonds out on Road 36, and moving horse shit with Petey. We’ve laid the ground for guild planting several trees in the small orchard to the North-East of the house — a cherry and an apricot tree.  We’ve gathered and started the process of rendering-edible 20 lbs of acorns from one of the many Valley Oak trees at Tailfeather Ranch. We’re planning the conversion of the front yard into a permaculture garden, lined with river rock and mushroom logs.  With Keli’s consistent enthusiasm and her children’s help, we’ve managed to do more than I’ve managed to get done in the last 2 years being in and out of this place.

And we’re just getting started. There’s much more to come. Wanna help? 

Three Oaks (Part I)

The path beneath the oaks is lined with berry bushes, grape-vines, and fig trees and follows a verdant aqueduct. Blue, Live, and Valley Oaks shade the path along the gurgling water.  After a short turn, the soft foot-path ends at the carved foot of a fallen tree. The old pine crosses the waterway, path worn smooth into the tree’s bark. The smooth handrail of hand-carved fallen wood safely guides to the other side of the natural bridge where a broad expanse awaits. Views of golden hills dominate the skyline, punctuated by old Oaks on the rolling slopes. In the foreground, a veritable food forest invites. A spiraling path flows organically beneath Figs and Olives, Pomegranates, and Almonds.  Medicinal and culinary herbs cluster at the base of the fruit trees. Clover covers the forest floor, and comfrey. Birds and bees soar through the cool scented air, fertilizing and pollinating as they zip from tree to flower laden tree.  To the immediate right, another log, this time connected to its roots leads down a staircase on the side of a small arroyo. The path cuts to the left of the dip in the land, following the curve of the hill down towards a creek bed. Water streams down the arroyo from the aqueduct in branching paths of river rock, nourishing oyster mushrooms and wild grapes.

to be continued

Saddle Sacks Business Development Outline

I have to be honest with you and state that this is not yet a business.
The truth is that I’m working on prototyping several designs for Saddle Sacks and would like help developing them into a full-fledged product. Which is the purpose of this statement.
I’m interested in micro-entrepreneurial ventures, and this is one of those that I am working on. 
 
Reclaim Fashion: Description
I call this venture Reclaim Fashion and I’m hoping to eventually model it after what is known as a “worker-cooperative”. In a worker cooperative, the company is owned and managed by its workers. Although the people involved in such a cooperative have different responsibilities and work that they do, they all benefit from the company’s success according to their level of involvement. Profits from the sales of Saddle Sackswould be distributed according to the amount and value of time spent on the project (to be decided by all).  Here’s a link to the Wikipedia article if you’d like to read more about worker cooperatives: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worker_cooperative
I say “eventually” because I’m not at that stage of development yet, and I may never be. For the near future, I’ll need to retain some control over the production, marketing, and sales of Saddle Sacks until the business can be shown to be profitable and sustainable in the medium-long term. Local seamstresses make ’em. I buy ’em and sell ’em.
 
What We’re Making: Saddle Sacks:
Saddle Sacks (as I call them) are cargo pockets that are separate from the clothing, so they can be added to (and removed from) an outfit as needed. They can serve as purse, fanny pack, utility belt, bag, what have you, and I have found them to be extremely useful. Designed to fit in with the clothing a person wears, they have the functionality of the above items while camouflaging as part of the pants or shorts. 
So far, I’ve made two prototypes: The Liberator, and Saddle Sacks Minis. 
 
The Liberator: Here’s a link to Examples of The Liberator. In brief, these Saddle Sacks are designed to be placed over the clothing as a belt. They’re useful in completely replacing the need for a purse or small bag. I’ve worn them for months while living and working in Oakland and traveling the country-side for a month and carried: a full-sized journal, harmonica, wallet, Iphone, lighter, and small notebook in individual pockets, as well as had room for many other trinkets. 
 
SS Minis: This is a more recent prototype and are more useful for everyday use as they are less conspicuous and less cumbersome (The Liberator, fully loaded, weighed in at ~5lbs). They consist of a single cargo pocket that loops through the belt to sit on the hip. I’ve worn these every day for about a month now, and most people don’t even realize that they are a separate article of clothing. Right now, they were made so that the same belt that holds up my pants is looped through the Saddle Sacks, but I’d like to have them more easily removable with a button-snap that loops up and over the belt instead.
 
What I Need Seamstresses For:
More prototyping and manufacturing of Saddle Sacks. I’ve created 3 sets of Saddle Sacks personally, and had an additional 4 made for me by a young seamstress. 
I need about 10-20 pairs to start selling. While I can use a sewing machine and needle and thread, I am by no means an expert, and I know that someone with experience would be much faster and create a much better version.  
Starting with a used pair of cargo shorts or pants, follow the basic pattern / instructions to create a pair ofSaddle Sacks, noting (and making) improvements to both the design AND the instructions. Take pictures of the process so that others can more easily follow the instructions.  An experienced crafter can make a pair in ~45min-1hour. I’m sure you might be able to do better.
 
Compensation:
As I said earlier, I would eventually like to share profits across the board. Until I have this project up and running, though, I am proposing paying $10-15 per pair of Saddle Sacks of either design — depending on the quality of the work and complexity of the resulting product (extra pockets, key-loops, etc). 
This way, you get compensated right away for your work, and I can go and market them and sell them for $20-40 to get my share. I am working on direct-sales (Etsy and Amazon) and getting them into several brick-and-mortar stores in Sacramento and the Bay Area.
To guarantee quality, I propose to pay you upon receipt of the product and we can agree on appropriate compensation.
 
Other Details: 
Depending on your preference and logistics, you can craft a number of them, box them up, and send them to me, or I can come pick them up all at once.  I live about an hour west of Sacramento, so depending on cost, I may prefer mailing over driving.  I would, of course, compensate you for the cost of shipping.
 
Crafters will be connected with each other via Skype or in person in order to better collaborate on the design and creation process.
 
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I wrote this and sent it to about 5 prospective crafters after they responded to a Craigslist ad (http://sacramento.craigslist.org/crg/3905595128.html) I posted. I continue to receive messages regarding the post, and plan on talking with several this week either on the phone or in person.