Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Of Earthships, Friends, and the Pecos Vibe

This house may at first glance seem typical for New Mexico, but much more lies beneath. That planter at right, for example, hosts a banana tree and is fed by household greywater. Take a pictorial tour of the construction of our friends' earthship here:
The journey to put together a passive solar, self-sustaining green house. Totally off-grid, solar electric, solar heat, solar hot water, catchwater roof and water re-cycling system, planter greenhouse all in a green house.  
There's much more at
And a beautiful home it is, made all the more inviting by the longtime Chi friends who moved here nearly 20 years ago. They picked us up at the tiny Lamy, NM, Amtrak station, fed and watered us within an inch of our lives, and showed us their New Mexico: Pecos, just outside Santa Fe.

Look at this sky.
Here's Nikki describing the living space she and Graham share:
Our house is independent of "civilized" inputs. Our power and heat come from the sun, 360+ days a year. The brick-laid-on-bedrock floor and the rock wall we are dug into at the back are solid mass that absorbs the solar gain and moderates the temperature to a base that never falls below 55 degrees, even in the depth of winter, when we use a small wood stove for a few hours in the evening as supplementary heat.
The tanks at either end of the house are 1500 gallons each, and are bedded into the berm so they never freeze, even after a week of 15-degree nights, and because the pipes from the tank into the house are also embedded, our pipes never freeze. Our tanks are filled with rainwater, and we live carefully but comfortably with 15 to 20 inches of rain a year.
We cook with propane, about a BBQ size tank a month in the winter, less in the summer. Our fridge, dishwasher, and washing machine are all powered by our solar panels. The most privation we experience is that during a five-day snowstorm (we get 3 or 4 each winter) when I don't vacuum or do laundry, and we light the woodstove a little earlier.
Also, no street lights, so we equip guests with flashlights to get to their cars, and no snow plows until the blacktop 4 miles away, but anything less than 9 inches we can drive through anyway. So we live simply, comfortably and well.
And beautifully.

H2 again: New Mexico itself is a study in blessed quiet. Fewer than 2 million people live in a land mass equivalent to that of the UK, with its 68 million souls. NM law is also welcoming to experimental homes like earthships, formed from discarded automobile tires rammed with earth. Here's a peek at how that works, at one corner of G&N's home intentionally left exposed. 

We hiked the extraordinary property with Graham and Nik's dog friends. More particulars from Nikki:
We are made acutely aware that we are not "out enjoying nature," a romantic and hubristic separation, but instead are a part of a complicated mesh we'd better make our first consideration in any plans we make. This is why our house is sited 15 degrees seat of south, to avoid the blistering summer sun, and make the most of the low-lying winter sun for solar power and passive solar heat; why we always have emergency rations and blankets in the car in winter, and try to keep the tank at least half full at all times; and why we are at peace each morning watching the sunrise over the east ridges of the Sangre de Christos, and watching the sun set over the Jemez each evening.

We never take a landscape for granted, it will change and demand different reactions from us that make, for instance, gardening a challenge, impossible without acquiring a deep knowledge of place. We have blisteringly hot days followed by cool nights, heavy snowfalls followed by swift melts that wash out a road in an afternoon.

Where we live makes us acutely aware of the phases of the moon, the full moon extinguishes the stars, the dark moon brings an atavistic awe that is both routine and startling each month.

3000-gallon water storage

 Two friendly donkeys live here too,
one a rescue

For overnight, a welcoming neighbor opened her home to us (the earthship enjoying the return of one of the family boys). Our host Anna's warmly comfortable place sits on Break Axle Road, suitably named I assure you.

Zora was good company

And Anna too. 

We awoke the first morning to a pine-scented breeze wafting over our heads. Magical.

Roads in this stunning backcountry make Chicago potholes look tame.
This one is in better condition than many.

On our second day we were faced with the choice of visiting the plaza in Santa Fe or going up-canyon for a hike in the Pecos Wilderness area. And here's your answer.
Pecos Canyon is fed by a rushing river, deciduous trees flourishing all around. Nikki notes:
New Mexico, like all of America west of the Rockies, is arid. Landscape is dependent on water and elevation. In fact, water and elevation are usually intertwined, with the east slopes of a range being wetter than the west, the west being more susceptible to fire. This is a state of microclimates, and a drive of 50 miles can take you from the desiccated moonscapes west of Santa Fe to high desert sage brush to lush bosque woodlands, open meadows, pine forests and wilderness trout streams.

Nature red in tooth and claw

Too soon it was time to catch our 1 pm train out of Lamy heading east to Chicago. Via Wikipedia:
The station was built in 1909 by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and appears in the Bollywood film Kites.

The Pecos vibe: curl up and stay a while

A glorious visit with old friends and new. Gracias por todo!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

New Mexico Cuisine: Red or Green?

Chile rellenos w red and green chile
plus an edgy crisp marg
at La Choza Santa Fe

"New Mexican food is similar to but not quite the same as Mexican and Tex-Mex" foods preferred in Texas and Arizona. New Mexico is the only state with an official question—"Red or green?"—referring to the choice of red or green chile. Combining both red and green chile is often referred to as "Christmas".

Squash enchilada (?) w green rice and green chile
at Cafe Fina, named for the gas station that predated the restaurant

It was hard to stifle my delight at being offered two kinds of chile with virtually everything we ordered. Green and red, and why not have both each time? I am a Christmas kid...

Good friends took us to three splendid spots, two in Santa Fe and one in Pecos, NM, where they live.

Huevos on black beans w green chile and plantains
at Cafe Fina

Cafe Fina offered an omelet with mushrooms, cheese, avocado and other tasty bits. 
Plus red+green chile.

Frankie's Casanova in Pecos
Across the street, they're prepping for a Longmire shoot.

Breakfast burrito and chicken enchilada
at Frankie's 

Huevos rancheros
at Frankie's

Thanks, Graham and Nik, for the New Mexico shot in the arm. I miss it already.

ps: you asked for it you got it, Pete...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

More Amtrak Love: The Journey, The Destination

Both count, and people + transport make a real difference. Here in the LA Union Station lounge (where you can await your train if you're ticketed ins a sleeping car) our attendants did a magnificent job of welcoming us, stashing our carry-ons, pointing us to snacks and beverages, and periodically checking their computers to see if we could upgrade from a roomette to a bedroom.  An extraordinarily comfortable spot, with wi-fi and a door to the outside so we could walk in the sun.

Just before our train arrived, we and our bags were picked up by a redcap who ferried us to the tracks.

An easy friendly trip to the doorstep of our bedroom car. This was Sunday, on our way to Lamy, NM, near Santa Fe, where we arrived Monday at 1 pm. More soon.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Discussing Solid Waste Over Dinner with John and Joey

What? Did I really just write that headline? Again, only on the train are you commanded to sit with people you don't know and then you find everyone is fascinating. It occurs to me this is a little like speed dating.
Meet John, a civil engineer who worked for the city of San Francisco for decades and still consults. We learned all about the city's solid waste management and the threat of rising sea levels caused by weather changes, which affect sewage treatment. The most remarkable part is all this didn't seem like bathroom talk at the dinner table.

Seriously smart guy. Seriously smart son, Johnny, who's studying history like his mom.

Wait! Who's this?
Maria, one of our favorite Amtrak servers, who remembered us a nanosecond before I remembered her. This is from a trip at least two years back. Off the train today at Lamy, NM, heading for Santa Fe and Pecos for a visit with longtime friends.

We're up all night for good fun...

...we're up all night to get lucky.

Can I just say: these two certainly did

But let's back up. The groom's a dear high school friend from many (many) years ago. And the motley crew that made its way from Chi, Michigan, and Memphis to wrap its collective arms around the bride and groom included our smart and elegant high school English teach/drama coach.
Both she and her husband provided some of the photos you'll see here, including these of the insane limo the groom sent to pick us up at our hotel and ferry us to the wedding site.

If you had any doubts, 
now you know you're in LA
 This thing was a safari wagon with an open-air rear end. Were we even cool enough to be riding inside?

I think we all know the answer to that.

Let's ask our favorite English teacher to start the wedding story...

The sun shone brightly, the air was perfect and the vivid purples, pinks of the flowers surrounding the pool (and floating on it) were backed up by the green hills just beyond. 

The bride and groom were radiant with joy and love. 

And as the dark descended, the moon rose over the hills.

Then the party lights lit up the trees and reflected in the pool as the music played and guests danced. It was magical.

It began elegantly with coffee, cocktails, and colorful cupcakes on the gussied-up porch of the bride and groom's home. Engaging guests chatted and sipped while the sequestered bride added her finishing touches.

Weddings seem to generate an optimism that lifts everyone higher. Smiles all around as the ceremony got underway.

The groom and his brother

Daughters: of the groom and the bride

Holding the snark for once in their lives,
 longtime friends stand for the bride

She's beyond radiant, walking down the aisle with her beloved mother

The ceremony was expressed in both English and German, owing to the bride's country of birth. Even the groom attempted to profess his love and commitment in German, which was funnier than you might imagine, since the German guests--and the bride's mother--interrupted periodically with (supportive) laughter.  A for effort for sure.

 After the ceremony, guests wandered...
 ...while the kitchen sizzled with activity.

Soon we'd know why: to start, seared ahi tuna on a bed of avocado, mango, et al.

Magnificent food accompanied by individualized note quotes from the bride and groom. 
(We loved ours.)

Did I tell about the food? Local, organic, masterful chef.

The groom and his daughter

The groom's band played, the bride's daughter sang, all was right with the world.

Ooo--a love song for the bride, as her mother and the groom's daughter share the moment.

Yes there was cake

 And dancing

And one handsome son of the groom

Blessings, J+J. Whatta party.