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!