Saturday, December 29, 2012

What Fiscal Cliff ?

Reading the news you would think we were all about to tumble over some steep precipice down into a ravine never to be seen or heard from again — the dreaded Fiscal Cliff. Well I just got gas, a cup of pretty good coffee for 89¢, looked out the window at the road ahead and it looks pretty smooth and flat.

There's a different perspective when you are driving a bus and living in a smaller world. Now if you raise the rates of camp sites, double the price of rice and beans, or if there are three straight days of rain I might complain.

But let's face it, folks, a few percentage points increase in SSI and taxes is not a catastrophe. Suck it up, America! You've been there before. Remember the 1990s ?  Not so bad !

As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears. -- Rumi.
So, what are folks so upset about? The image of a cliff is telling. What we as a nation seemed to be obsessed by are end-of-the-world, doomsday scenarios. The Mayan calendar thing. Global warming. Economic collapse. Social upheaval.

Maybe with good reason.

The complex world that the majority of us live in seems increasingly scary and morphing beyond our ability to control. Will I have a job tomorrow? Will the cost of living double? Will a  medical disaster strike?

Life was not always so complicated nor did we see ourselves as part of a large machine that seems to be becoming  increasingly unstable.

I close the door, turn the key, music kicks on floating above the sounds of the engine and the tires on the road.

Up ahead the sky is blue and flecked with December clouds and the mountains have been where they have always been.

Fiscal cliff? Not that I see, or in the rear view mirror either. In a simpler world you don't go over a cliff.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review — The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein

I have just come from reading on line The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein. The online version I read was completed in 2006, therefore before the fiscal crisis of 2007 and much of what was to follow. It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, Eisenstein will have made in the final published version due out in February, available from Amazon.

The book is big both in scope and size — 600 pages. It is uneven but perhaps it could not have been otherwise given the vast landscape the author attempts to cover, and the destination he has in his sights — namely a new and enlightened world and humanity, but only after the old order collapses.

Charles Eisenstein
We have been living, says Eisenstein, since the dawn of agriculture in a linear world of cause and effect; of separation of from ourselves, each other and nature; of yours and mine; and marching to the drumbeat of a technological view of the world. Much has been achieved, but at great cost and ultimate peril to the planet and to ourselves.

Lost, he argues, is the instinctive recognition that all is sacred. That life is a holy web. And that we are, in our finest moments, all connected — not pawns in a dog-eat-dog capitalist/Darwinian jungle struggling for survival.

How do we get out of the mess we are in and onto higher ground?

Eisenstein gives no guarantees but argues it will happen. The foundations on which the industrial/ technological worlds have been built–material, economic, social and political–are unsustainable and failing. From the ashes of the old will arise the new. This is a big leap, an act of courage as much as an act of faith.

He points to small but important green shoots, of ecology, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, spiritual searching, not as answers themselves to our plight but as pointers to what my lie ahead and grow — a new world of beauty and plenty when we cease its destruction and share in its bounty.

There is defiant optimism afoot here. Rewarding insights into many of our foibles. And some fresh thinking.

"The process (of our confusion and separation from the world) started eons ago with the development of symbolic culture, which mediated direct perception of reality with an abstract map of reality. Since then," says the author, "the fall from wholeness has accelerated."

In other words, says Eisenstein, when we put a label on a tree and call it a tree we no longer see it as a unique and sacred thing. We have defined it, labeled it, and now can clear cut a forest without remorse.

Violence is at the heart of  a world we try to control. "From the weeding of a strawberry bed to the coercion of a child to the elimination of enemies in the name of national security, the cultivation and control of the world inherently requires violence," he writes.

We need not control the world or ourselves. We need to see it whole again and ourselves not separate from it or each other.

It is a book that when you put it down you wish the author were there so that you might ask: "Well, Charles, all well and good, but how do we bring 7 billion souls and thousands of years of history around to a new way of seeing things?"

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New Leg of the Journey

I no longer am living full-time in my bus. That does not mean the journey is over.

One of the benefits of minimalist living is that it strips away the value that we too often place on material goods and possessions. Often we do not even understand why we are so caught up in owning things that in end end up owning us. For anyone who has not seen it I recommend watching PBS's Scott Simon's Affluenza.

Colorado Monument 
I spent two weeks at Colorado Monument outside Grand Junction, coming down from the mountain only once for groceries and never tired of the experience – of waking up to a different dawn each day and being overwhelmed by the majesty I saw all around.

Nor did I tire of the other campers who came there.

One was a couple from Canada who brought with them a nephew and a powerful telescope and software that helped them find and zero in on planets and stars.

Another was a man fighting lung disease and breathing the clear air to get better. And he did. In just a few weeks' stay he was able to take long walks.

A third was a couple from Toronto, also in a Volkswagen, who came there "to find ourselves."  They were lost, they said, in their marriage and in the world until one day they realized they could wake up "without care or worry." And so they hit the road.

And the hodge-podge gang from Brooklyn – five guys who pooled their resources and bought a beat-up RV determined to make it to San Francisco and drink beer all the way. We laughed until it got dark at night and the stars came out.

While I was travelling many asked what I was doing to fill my days. Nothing, I replied. The days fill themselves. It is remarkable how little there is that needs to be done once you let go of the internal need for doing, as if your productivity somehow mattered to the world. It doesn't.

What you get as a life-long gift, just as happened with the couple from Toronto, is your sanity back.

A desert cactus flowers.
Viewed from the grandeur of rugged peaks where artists come to paint, the world looks a lot bigger and we experience ourselves a lot smaller.

You can spend an hour watching an ant or a flower or a bee, and no time is lost at all, and what is gained is greater love of life. And maybe a little more understanding too – though not in a way that can be put into words.

A park ranger told me there that there is no shortage of water even in the semi-desert. "We get the right amount of water for everything that lives here," she said. For the junipers and the piñon pines, and the desert bluebirds that feed of the juniper berries, and the bees that visit the flowers, there is enough. And for scurrying mice and the hawks overhead. It's there.

It struck me that there was a lot of wisdom in that observation, and it had more to it than just an explanation of thriving desert life.

The riches of this planet whether sparse or lush are what they are. There is enough for everything and everyone that lives on this planet if we understand and ask only what we really need.

Colorado mountains viewed in westering sun from Monument.
And maybe that was what was so inviting in the song sung to me by the breeze up there are night:  that you have enough when you have enough, and you don't need more. Just a place to lay your head and sing your own song until the sun comes up again tomorrow as it always will.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Chimayó — Father Roca, Short Legs and a Long Life

It has been called the Lourdes of America. Since 1810, when the first chapel was built on the site, stories abound of miraculous cures.

Today, thousands of photographs, a hundred or more canes and crutches and wheel chairs left behind and no longer needed attest to cures said to have taken place at El Santuario del Chimayó 28 miles North of Santa Fe.

El Santuario del Chimayó
The present chapel was built in 1816. The original six years earlier.

Stories of how the first chapel was built, and  the second was brought back from oblivion, are stories of little miracles in their own right.

The story of the original chapel dates to 1810 when Bernardo Abeyta saw a strange light coming from a hill above the Santa Cruz river. When he went to the site and dug he uncovered a buried crucifix.

Three times the crucifix was taken to the local village. And three times it disappeared only to be found again at the original site.

Señor Abeyta got the message. A chapel should be built there. And it was. Almost immediately word spread of the healing power of the little church, and  in 1813 Abeyta asked permission to build a bigger chapel. The chapel that now stands was completed in 1816.

For more than a hundred years the chapel remained in the private hands of the Abeyta family. By pilgrims continued to come and make offerings. But by 1929 the chapel had fallen into disrepair. To preserve the little chapel  it was purchased by preservationists and given to the  Archdiocese of Santa Cruz to preserve and protect it.

Father Casimiro Roca at 94.
That same year, 1929 a small, 11-year-old boy in Mura, Spain, asked his parents to let him enter the seminary. The family was poor butthe seminarians agreed to let him study with paying. The boy was Casimiro Roca. Times were hard.  His two brothers were killed during the Spanish civil war and Casimiro Roca fled to Italy where he completed his studies and took his vows in 1945.

"It was," he recalls, "the happiest day of my life to become a priest."

Meanwhile across the ocean in America, the Archdiocese of Santa Cruz in New Mexico was trying to figure out what to do with the rundown little chapel now in its charge — wellspring of so many legends and tales of healing, now fallen into disrepair.

But somewhere the wheels of divine providence were busy turning. Following a traumatic illness in 1950, Fr. Casimiro Roca decided to come to America to get a new start. In 1954, the archdiocese sent him to go to Chimayó to revive the little parish. There, he says, he fell in love with the people and the mountain. Several times he left but always come back. In 1984 he returned for keeps.

Courtyard conversation.
Over the more than 60 years that he has shepherded the small parish much has been done.

"We bought land. We planted trees. We buttressed the walls. We patched. We repaired," he recalls.

And he got a few breaks. In 1970 El Santuario del Chamiyó was designated a National Historic Landmark. Soon the trickle of pilgrims coming each year became a flood.  coming. Today,  more than a quarter million visitors come to Chamiyó each year &mash; as many as 30,000 during Holy Week alone. Some walk the 90 miles from Albuquerque.

Father Roca at 94 says he keeps busy but is slowing down. There is  pride mixed with annoyance as he recounts the years of hard work. "I did all this," he says with a sweeping gesture. "Now I am tired."

But the church, he says, will not let him retire. He talks about going back to Spain.

It is probably in the church's interest — as well as the chapel's — that he stays on. He has become a legend ass much as the sanctuary itself.

Wildflowers outside the  sanctuary at Chimayó, New Mexico.
He speaks castilian Spanish and comports himself with the dignity befitting a man of God.

He says he thinks his place was destined to be here and wonders how much longer the Church, or God, will keep him.

He has no regrets, he says. "None. And I thank God for that. I have my way of life here."

We say good-bye and head back to our bus in the chapel parking lot and pass wildflowers along the way. The short priest — all four feet, ten inches of him — seems as native to the soil as the desert flowers we see thriving around us.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


It was a few minutes before 5 o'clock when we turned off New Mexico 68 that runs from Espanola to Taos, and down a winding road paralleling the Rio Grande, through the Orilla Verde federal recreation area where the Bureau of Land Management maintains seven campgrounds in the mountain-flanked gorge.

A 1968 VW — red fading to rust.
In summer the campgrounds are crowded with white water rafters. In September when we were   there they weren't.

An hour before we had been sitting in sunshine at a picnic table munching burritos  Now the sky had darkened, the wind had picked up, foreshadowing rain..

We chose the second campground, Rio Bravo, and pulled in. There were only about a half dozen or so others there — a few tent campers, an RV or two, and down by the river a beat up VW, red fading to rust, draped with plastic. It looked abandoned. It wasn't.

When the rain stopped and late afternoon sun came out, bathing the camp in golden light, so did Barbara, a woman in her early 60s who has been living in  her car for more than twenty years. Out of respect for her privacy I am not showing her picture.

The Rio Grande as it passes the Rio Bravo campground south of Taos.
All her possessions are stuffed in plastic bags inside the car where she sleeps nights curled up on the front seat.

The Rio Bravo campsite where we were, and other campsites as well, has toilet facilities and heated showers.

As she unfolded and stretched getting out of her car, she smiled at her new neighbors. We talked. There was no bitterness or self pity in her conversation, or any trace of self-consciousness.  Her dignity was intact. Life, she said, looking at the clearing sky, was good, although she said she had heath problems.

There are many Barbara's out there today who have chosen the freedom of the road rather than the supervision of a shelter, and the unfiltered grandeur of a river gorge instead of the concrete confines of the city.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sorghum Molasses — The North Carolina Way

James Isaacs was hoping to get 15 gallons of sorghum molasses this year. Instead he got just 7.5. He can't be sure of the culprit but he suspects the DEA.

Frank Hopkins feeds cane-like stalks of sorghum into the press.
This year when he went to inspect his two-acre field he found half of his crop had been blown down and was broken, much of it dead.

The damage was  in different places — not uniform like storm damage.

Isaacs looked skyward.

"About the only thing that I can think of that could do this sort of thing," he said, "are helicopters.

Other than that, though, Saturday morning turned out to be a great day to make molasses in Rockingham County.

Dawn came gray and cloudy, just as a trailer loaded down with the cut sorghum was drawn up near an old tractor powered cane press, the engine turned on, and 81-year-old Frank Hopkins took his seat to begin a seven-hour stint of feeding in stalks one at a time.

As the press did its relentless work the juice flowed, first into a bucket, and then down a pipe and into a large vat above a wood burning fire where it was constantly stirred and skimmed as it thickened.
Steam rises from the vat of molasses. Care must be taken to prevent
the thickening syrup from scorching so it is constantly being stirred

Steam rose into the cool air. Gradually 75 gallons of sorghum juice boiled down to a creamy smooth brown syrup.

Sorghum molasses — especially the
slow-cooked kind like Isaacs and his partner, Jimmy Jones, were making — is subtler in flavor than the sugar cane molasses found in stores. It is also lighter in flavor and more suited for pouring on pancake and waffles — and is especially good on fresh-baked  hot-buttered biscuits.

And like wine it gradually changes as it ages, developing a more complex taste and is said to reach its peak only after about three to four years.

While it's cooking, judging when the syrup is ready to be pulled and canned is tricky. Too soon and it will have a "green" taste and will never fully ripen in the jar. Cooked too long and it can lose the subtle flavor that distinguishes it from its more robust cousin, sugar cane molasses, or scorch if the fire is too hot.

For some reason this year Isaacs' batch is taking a long time to cook.

A curious bystander watches.
"Last time we were done by three o'clock," he says. Now it is almost five and the light is fading from the sky.

There are reasons for the inconsistencies. Everything from how much rain fell during the year, to how much sun, to when it was harvested go into making each batch unique.

But finally, after much sampling it is pronounced ready.

From the cooking vat  it is drawn off into a larger container with a spigot, and from there canned sterilized pint, half-pint and quart jars. Samples are passed around.

"Good," is the verdict. "Worth waiting for," is another.

Isaacs smiles. Next year, he says, if the Feds don't terrorize his crop again maybe there will be more.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Blows of the Hurricane

Today the sun shone brilliantly in a clear sky, warming the bus and making it comfortable to write. But I am not comfortable. It has been a week now since Sandy battered the Northeast causing untold destruction. Each day as millions continue without power, and many without heat, it seems the world has been turned upside down. This is the kind of devastation you only expect in war, and even then rarely so much all at once.

The question is not will the Northeast recover? Cities, towns and neighborhoods always recover — eventually.

The question is will life ever be the same again? And  for many the answer is likely no.

I drove through New Orleans a year and a half ago, more than five years after hurricane Katrina walloped the Big Easy, and was shocked to see how many buildings remained empty and boarded up, and how many neighborhoods remained nonfunctioning.

Now the Big Apple, like the Big Easy, has been pounded and knocked to the canvas; and many, many small towns and communities, like trees in the storm, have been torn up by their roots.

As I write  a sparrow flies inside and seems not to notice as I type. He flits from perch to perch before flying out.

I am reminded months before how a damselfly flew inside and stayed the whole of the day. When I reached out to her she landed on my finger.

There is a connection we all have, each to the other, even to sparrows and insects.

To paraphrase the poet, ask not on whom the blows of the hurricane fall. They rain down on all of us.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Bus Stops Here

It's no longer August. Or September. Or October. Fall leaves garnish the trees and wisps of wood smoke curl out of chimneys and into the air.

My bus now is parked beside a grove of trees in North Carolina following a long trip across the country. Winter is coming. It is time to take a break. Time to write a book.

My brother Will hosts a beef bourguignon dinner at his
home near Gettysburg on the eve of his 70th birthday.
The two-week journey from New Mexico to North Carolina, by way of a family birthday and reunion in Pennsylvania, was a good one without incident — except for leaving my gas cap at a Shell station in Santa Fe and smelling fumes at night  trying to sleep under the stars.

The country in September had an hushed tone prelude to melancholy autumn, as though it sensed the coming of a bitter election and a rampaging storm that would savage the east.

There were complaints  In Dodge City, Kansas, Mike Casey, owner of Casey's Cowtown Steakhouse and Club sat down at our table.

Mike Casey 
"I lost $14,000 last year just staying open. People are still coming but not spending like they used to . Now everyone  watches pennies." It's Friday night at the steaks are good but the mood inside is sober. Mike shows off the art he collects and sells on the walls.

Back at the Gunsmoke Trav-L-Park at the edge of Dodge where we are staying two roustabouts from the booming oil fields of North Dakota pull in.

"Good pay and a lot of work up there," one says. "But no place to stay or even park an RV. Crazy."

They were at Casey's the night before and will try Montana Mike's, another steakhouse, this night. Although the RV park is almost full we find it is for sale.

 It seems everyone wants to get out of Dodge these days, a city that in six years, from 1872 to 1878, shipped 3 million buffalo hides on the railroad that ran through and gave it birth. Later it became a shipping center for beef as ranchers moved in and replaced the bison with cattle.  For miles in all directions today are feedlots, some stretching almost to the horizon.

America has a beef habit and Kansas feeds it. In the morning we start our little four-cylinder engine and push on.

Bosque del Apache -- the bus stops here
Getting to Kansas required some doing and some sightseeing and discoveries along the way. Leaving Truth or Consequences New Mexico our first stop was Bosque del Apache to the north, one the the nation's premier waterfowl watering holes for migratory birds on their way south. We were too early for the bird traffic, which peaks in mid November, but enjoy the peace of early fall under magnificent New Mexico skies.

There we meet a volunteer full-timer arriving early to work at the large preserve. At Bosque grains are planted to further aid the birds on their journey south. This year the Festival of Cranes is November 13-18.

During the night the desolate sound of trains passing by, sounding their horns as hey carry coal southto El Paso.

We leave early the next day en route to Santa Fe. We feast at a Mexican restaurant on Cerrillos Road, Tortilla Flats, drink dark beer and go to bed exhausted.

Cranes, like airborne origami, at sunrise.
We spend two days visiting Santa Fe and touring art galleries on Canyon Road. We find a gem. Mirador Gallery owned by David Bau who began bringing in contemporary Tibetan art — some of it smuggled out of the country under the noses of Chinese overlords — and putting it on display.

Please see Tibetan Contemporary Masters.

Bau is an easy-going guy who sits on the window sill and talks not about art but about living.

"I can't believe this is what I am doing every day, coming here. This isn't work. This is life as I thought life should be."

Tibetan Mickey
David Bau
In the back is a small restaurant. No high pressure sales here as is some galleries. The owner, art and gallery are as one.

There is much to see and do in Santa Fe — and we do. But there is a long journey ahead. Almost 2000 miles. So we head north to El Santuario del Chamiyo halfway on the way to Taos where miracles are said to have happened. And where we meet Father Casimiro Roca, a 94-year-old priest, who says the church will not let him retire.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Carl, Drought, Rain and Farming

Much has happened since I posted last. My friend Carl has been diagnosed with colon cancer and given six months. He lives in his old blue van, enjoying the hills and his freedom, and has no intention of giving that up to linger somewhere in a hospital bed. 

"Nobody has to understand why I'm doing this," he says. "But this way I am living free until the Creator takes me. That I enjoy."  

There is no sorrow or remorse in Carl. His has been, he says, "a life well lived—if not by your standards at least by mine." At Walmart he saw a man confined to a wheelchair. "It made me realize how lucky I still am," he says.


Carl -- grateful for his life
While the rest of the nation burns under drought New Mexicco isgetting the summer rains known as monsoons. Two inches fell on El Paso yesterday, I'm told. And in Truth or Consequences dark billowing clouds by day often produce downpours, especially at night, flooding the streets and turning brown patches of the desert bright green.


There's a small town about 20 or so miles to the northwest of TorC named Monticello.  They, too, last week had two inches of rain, washing out arroyos and making roads impassable. The rains that thunder down the canyons bring soil. The land is fertile.

Ed is in his 80s now. On his own he farms seven acres, pulling weeds by hand and inspecting produce with an eye for detail and learning.

Torres -- married at 16
Last week I visited Ed on his farm, right after the rain. The roads were so impassable he enlisted the help of a neighbor, Torres, with a big four-wheel-drive blue pickup to get up out to the fields.

"It would have been better if you had come out a few days from now," Ed says. "Then you could have driven.  Torres is a true New Mexican old-timer who greets us in a torrent of Spanish before switching to English. On the way I learn he has lived all his life in this green valley. He married his sweetheart, Sally, 62 ago when she was 15 and he was 16.  
Baggy pants and a cantaloupe

Now she is an invalid. Torres has stopped farming and takes care of her, doing the cooking and giving her the insulin she needs.

"She helped me all those years farming," he says. "It's only right I should take care of her now."

Ed has no wife to take care of and loves the fields. He grows everything—melons and cantaloupes of all stripes, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, chiles, turnips, rutabagas, peas, pumpkins, watermelons, gourds — If it grows  Ed grows it. And does it all himself beginning in early in spring and working late into the fall.

His pants are baggy and hanging loose on him  "I've lost 20 pounds."  he grins. "I'll fatten up again some in winter."

A Joe Parker chile
We walk the fields.  They are neat and manicured. No weeds. He doesn't use fertilizer or herbicides. 

"I've been farming all my life," he says. "Work? Sure, it's work. Too much work. No man would do it. But it you love doing it, well, it's not work. Not to me, anyway."

Work begins at daylight.  "Know how to tell if a melon is ripe?" he asks. "Pick it up an twist it a little. If it comes right off the you know it's ready."

I say good-bye to Ed and climb back into Torres's truck to go back to town. We pass an abandoned school, windows long gone. Torres points to it. "That's where I met Sally, " he says.

Minutes later we pass a small adobe church. A sign on the door says, no mass in August.  

"I'll be here as long as I live. I'm part of this land."
He points again. "And that's where we got married. We were young, had to get permission. They said it wouldn't last. It did." 

Again he looks out of his pickup.

"I guess I'll be here as long as I live. I'm part of this land."

Monday, July 9, 2012

Too Small For One — Just Right For Two


A few years ago there were still a number of VW buses on the road. Today there are fewer. There are reasons for this. Our buses are getting older, harder to maintain, are wearing out.

But I think there is more. Buses are small. America has changed. The original McDonald's drink was  7-ounces. Today 42 ounces is the norm. KFC's Mega Jug is 64 ounces (two quarts) and 7-11's Team Gulp is 128 ounces  (a full gallon).

Living Large, at first a slogan, has become a national way of life.

I am at an RV park in Truth or Consequences, NM, and am by far the smallest RV— if you can call a VW bus an RV —  in the park. Yet I seem to be the only vehicle with room inside.

Someone asked a while back if my bus wasn't a bit small to live in. "Yes, it can be a bit tight for one," I said. "But it's just right for two."

The more we clutter up our lives with things that aren't essential the less room we have for those that are.

Life is a journey. A wonderful journey. But not one that is meant to be traveled alone.


New Mexico is not India. It is mostly desert. Yet in July something happens. Black clouds suddenly roll in from nowhere. Lightening flashes. The sky erupts. Water torrents down.

A black monsoon cloud moves in at dusk.
These seasonal outbreaks are referred to as monsoons. Quickly over  they are awaited with the same eagerness that children wait for snow in other parts of the country at Christmas time.

Cactus that has been shriveling up drink there fill. Water overflows creek beds and soaks the nearby vegetation. Brown hillsides are momentarily green.

Last year the monsoons came late and were spotty. This year we are off to a good start. Three storms in three days.

Who says it does not rain in the desert?

Actually desert here is a misnomer. I was at Colorado National Monument. A park ranger was conducting a field hike.

"It's wrong the think there is a water shortage here," she said. "There is plenty of water for the kind of life that lives here."  And plenty of life does indeed.

And water is tricky. Three weeks ago I accidentally left my cell phone in my jeans when I washed them. Bye-bye phone. I bought a new one on eBay. Five days ago I did the same thing. The replacement arrived today.

But Truth or Consequences is a special place. I have not been without a phone. Three people insisted on lending me their extra phones and more would have done so had I let them.


The Black Cat coffee shop and book store here closed for the summer two weeks ago. The owner, Rhonda Brittan, threw a customer appreciation party. About 80 guests ate about 30 pizzas, danced and sang to music and generally enjoyed themselves well into the soft evening night.

Rhonda Brittan
The Black Cat will reopen August 31. During most of the year it is a literary gathering place on weekends, Friday through Monday, when it is open. There are tables, pastries, The New York Times and rooms full of books stacked to the ceiling.

But like so much of TorC it doesn't take itself seriously, and Rhonda knows almost every customer by name.

Computers are shunned. Every purchase is written up by hand. And profit isn't the real motive.

Running a great book store is.


In September I will be joined by a companion and after spending some time here in TorC we will likely be heading north to see the pines and the aspens and the great painted landscapes above Santa Fe and around Taos.

A bus may be small but this totally amazing world isn't.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

One More Trip Around the Sun — On Turning 72

I turn 72.
This week I turned 72, and that gave rise to some thoughts.

It is sometimes said we should live each day as though it were to be our last. I find that impractical.

On the other hand living each year as though it might be our last  to me makes great sense.

A year is a good time frame for planning. A year has all the seasons, the holidays,  the birthdays of those we love.

The year stretching before us is elastic. It renews its full length with each sunrise.

My bus turns 43.
We celebrate each year as James Buffett once observed as One More Trip Around The Sun. That is the way of things on this planet. Annuals have one big year to get it done. Perennials get to come back and do it again — but one year at a time

Insects, animals, rivers, lakes, trees all are tied to this cycle of the sun. Even stars in the heavens reset.

Living each year then as though it were to be our last really does make sense. We get to plan ahead and do the things we want to do the best we way we can. Remember all the birthdays. Express all our gratitudes. If we work hard and practice we may even get good at it.

So that when that last year really does roll around we'll  be ready for it and do a bang up job without even having to try that hard.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Conversation With a Cyclist

Something made me look up. I saw a man riding a bicycle. A minute later I looked up again and he was at my door.

"Pardon me," he said. "Can you tell me where there is  park nearby?" It was late afternoon and broiling hot outside. "Sure," I said. I gave him directions to two. He sat down on the grass near my bus. I offered him water. "Been riding far?" I asked. "About 38 miles today," he said.

Matthew Smith
His name, he said, was Matthew Smith. "What brings you here?" He shrugged. "Homeless. Since November. Been living in this state (New Mexico) for 35 years and this is the worst I've ever seen."

Not just New Mexico but the world, he said, was no longer to his liking. "Unemployment?" he snorted. "Oh, you can find a job you might get a living wage. But is a living wage? Enough so you can eat? — Eating baloney sandwiches, maybe. It wasn't always like that, not in my life time.

"You know they have MOABs (Mother of all Bombs) in Syria, and this we have president kills people out of the sky."

He shook his head. "I was a farmer for 18 years until November."

He pauses and rolls a cigarette in the short thin paper that comes with Bugler tobacco. "They've done away with habeas corpus today. There are no civil rights anymore. They can hold you for anything. We go around the world invading countries in the name of freedom, and we destroy it at home."

My guest was tired. He sat in a full lotus position until his legs began to cramp. He stretched. His bike was a big one, solid and heavily and loaded down with most of his possessions.

"We live in a world of NewSpeak values."
"Where are you going?" I asked him

"I guess I'm here," he said


I've met a lot of men and women like Matthew Smith. They grew up in one world and now struggle to live in another.

Like many, Matthew embraces parts of the new order and while decrying changes he doesn't like.

He uses his cell phone to access Genesis Communications Network for news. He is a fan of the Alex Jones Show.  (Jones, in a blurb about his show shows, claims he sorts through "government cover-ups, mass media red herrings, and corporate scandals" to give Americans what they need —  information withheld or ignored by the mainstream media.)

Matthew disgests what he hears. The police state is here, he says. "Do you know Homeland Security is buying 450 million rounds of .40 caliber hollow point ammunition? For what? To use against civilians?"

(I was curious so I went on line to check it out. I found this video.)

He credits Aldous Huxley and George Orwell for warning us of what was coming.. He blames America for acquiescing to a big brother state of NewSpeak political values and terms, and embracing consumerism — where going to war is keeping the peace, and going in debt is living well.

U.S. Flag on his chest
He rolls another cigarette from the blue pouch of tobacco with the silhouette of a bugler standing tall on it. "Ironic, isn't  it, that we now see in camouflage a symbol of America?"

Smith is not anti-American or anti-military. He wears a blue sleeveless T-shirt with a flag of the United States in he shape of a map of the country on it, below a red bandana.

Many of his friends, he says, are veterans. Some died in the streets. "We did that to them."


"You ask where I'm going?" he says, getting up and walking to his bike.

I tell him there is park close by on the Rio Grande, that the water is high and cold. He should be able to find shade.

"You ask where I'm going?" he repeats. "I think that's a question we all should be asking." And he pedals off.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Can Music Save America — Again?

There was a full moon hanging lantern-like over the campgrounds as I walked back to my VW bus last Saturday night. Music came from all directions. Performers gathered in groups around tents and tuned and sang. I remembered another soft time like this, more than forty years ago — 1967, dubbed the summer of love when music seemed to pour from everywhere. The year of  Woodstock when seemingly a whole nation came together in song.

Performer at the ABQ Folk Fest
The heritage is everyone's.
Joni Mitchell sang about it (Woodstock). The songs of that era everybody knows even if they were not as yet born. And the idealism captured in Guess Who's Share the Land was part of it.

The 1960s have been written about ad nauseum. But what did they mean? We sometimes forget that the 1960s was a time of deep division in the land, from the war in Viet Nam, to racial injustice and rioting, to the cold war with the threat of nuclear annihilation, to the awareness of pollution and  the environment, to women's issues and deep divisions between the young and old. We were a nation torn apart in many ways.

It was music of the 1960s that did something no politician, no statesman, no author, no poet, no intellectual could do. It gave a voice to the people. Soon we all were singing.

It was revolution in song, ideas in lyrics.

Now maybe — just maybe — it is starting to happen again.

Before there was Bob Dylan there was Pete Seeger. Before there was Arlo there was Woodie. The origins of the music that flourished in the 1960s had roots that run deep in the folk song soil of this nation.

It has been so forever at every turning point in our history. Yankee Doodle during the Revolutionary War. The Star Spangled Banner when the British invaded in 1812. The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Dixie during the Civil War. Over There during World War I. This Land is Your Land in the Great Depression, We Shall Overcome during the Civil Rights Movement, Blowing In The Wind during the anti-war movement, and so on. America comes together and unites in song.
I thought about this as I went from singing group to singing group — that movements come in waves, that we dig deep in our songbook to find was unites us. Or make up new songs.
Silhouettes of song and singing at ABQ.

I've lost some friends over the years. I've gained some new ones. On moonlit nights with music in the air you think of all of them. You think of the songs and the music made together. You think of the pain and the healing.

This nation needs healing now to build a new and sustainable world we can leave to our children and theirs and theirs.

I'd like to believe we can come together once more in music. A few chords, a few strums, some harmony and let it sweep across the land in a blaze.

Who knows. It happened before. It could happen again.

Everybody Get Together got to love one another right now — The Youngbloods

Saturday, June 2, 2012

ABQ Folk Festival — 24 hours of Joy

Officially, the  Albuquerque Folk Festival began today at 10 o'clock today — a one-day blast of singing, yowpping, workshopping, eating, playing, fiddling and just plain having fun. In fact the woman at the teller window of the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum which is hosting the event flat refused to sell tickets before 10. Never mind they could be bought in advance elsewhere.

Dueling banjos at the ABQ Folk Festival
Not to worry. The real festival began last night in the free camping area.

There may have been 200 or so of us at the most. But what made it fun is that about half were musicians. Real Musicians. Talented Musicians. And they came to play.

They set up venues at two different makeshift locations . By 4 o'clock the fun had begun and lasted until midnight.

Much of it bluegrass. But there were smatterings of cajon, Irish, Israeli, American blues and traditional folk songs.

Players came and went trundling in a wide assortment of instruments. Anyone and everyone who could play was invited to join in. Many did.

Those of us less talented sat around in chairs and listened, tapped our feet or began singing. Food was potluck. Mellowness pervaded. A three-quarters full moon looked  down on the dark campground.
Fiddle with a soulful wail 

The Albuquerque Folk Festival had its origin 14 years ago as part of an arts on the park program. Gradually it took on its own life, with a nonprofit board of directors and a host of volunteer members. In recent years it has been held at the state fairgrounds. This is the first year at the balloon museum.

Tickets are $20 but it doesn't take much to get in free. Anyone showing up can do three hours of volunteer work at the festival and enjoy free admission and a t-shirt. Or be (or claim to be) a musician and walk in free.

Admission pays for only about a fourth of the cost, I was told. Most of the rest comes from supporting grants. Costs are kept low by relying on volunteers for everything — as many as 700 this year doing everything from promotions, scheduling and printing up the elaborate guide.

Hammered dulcimer needed constant tuning
There are vendors, to be sure, but it is not a big money-making event. Festival t-shirts sell for just $10. If you don't need a 2012 edition you may purchase three "venerable" t-shirts from previous years for the same $10 price.

Mostly the vendors sell food, drink and a smattering of jewelry, creams and such.

It is a true participation festival. There are no stages. There are bands, to be sure, performing in tents and rooms inside the building. Sometimes as many as eight to ten events go on simultaneously, mos of the audience participation

These are not just singalongs. Musicians wander  freely from one performance to the next. The distinction between audience and performer  blurs.

The result is something special. Our roots, our heritages are in our music. When several thousand folks come together to play, to sing, to share we're just hearing hearing America sing. We're singing along with her. And it really feels good!

Bass player lost in his music

Beth Sabinal -- half of the Sabinal Sisters

Meanwhile, south near TorC  the Gila National Forest fire has consumed 227,000 acres and is now the biggest fire ever in New Mexico. The smoke has left skies ashen and mountains shaded gray. A few nights ago the half moon high in the sky shown an ominous orange. Sunsets however are magnificent.

Sundown in Torc blanketed by smoke from the Gila National Forest fire

One of 1200 firefighters battling New Mexico's largest fire
The fire is not considered dangerous. Some 1200 firefighters are battling the blaze.

Although remote from human habitat the rugged Gila Mountains are home to bears, mountain lions, coyotes, lynx, fox, rabbits and a large number of birds as well as rugged pines and mountain shrubs.

The 227,000 burned acres represents about 8 percent of the national forest's 3.3 million acres — making it the sixth largest national forest in the continental United States.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Trouble — Right Here in River City !

This post has been perceived as controversial and has been withdrawn for now for further consideration.

The subject of water in the Southwest, as has been pointed out to me, is a highly emotionally charged topic.

The intent of this blog has never been to stir controversy but to inform and entertain.

John Rogers

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Kim Audette's Amazing Electric Bus

Kim and her solar powered bus. Maybe the only one of its kind.
Think solar powered public transportation isn't doable? Think again. An enterprising woman here in Truth or Consequences, NM, has a dream and is bringing it to life.

Kim Audette, a fifth-generation Sierra Countian, became convinced a while back that her city needed public transportation—preferably  low-cost and nonpolluting.

So she bought an electric bus from a company in California designed to run on batteries and be charged overnight.

But with some experimentation Kim changed that formula and went further. She added solar panels to the roof that she fabricated herself, visible in the photo, and then found she could do away with overnight charging.

"I can run all day and stay charged just from the sun," she says, and proves it by running a 12-hour schedule.

Still there is a trade-off. Her maximum speed is 45 mph, and that's pushing it. 20-25 mph is better and keeps her batteries strong.

Riding in this private, nonprofit bus that snakes through town is like riding in a golf cart in terms of speed. But then in a town that is only a few miles long it doesn't take long to go anywhere. And it is absolutely quiet. Kim pulled out the old air-conditioning system that drained juice and replaced it with a swamp cooler that depends on evaporating water to cool and works well in a dry desert climate.

But building a bus that runs all day on sunshine is only half the battle. Someone has to pay the driver and occasional upkeep expenses. She is working on that part of the equation by selling inside ads, charging fares, selling monthly passes and seeking support from merchants that will benefit from more customers coming to their doors.

If the solar bus (Nickname: Solar Buzz) catches on Kim hopes to add more buses. It's a way, she says, of connecting the community and making good use of one of New Mexico's abundant resources—sun.

Kim thinks we've had it all wrong in our thinking about electric transportation by expecting electric vehicles to do what fossil fuel vehicles do.

"Go slow and enjoy the ride," she says. "You're going to get there and without leaving even a tiny carbon footprint."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Amara Grace—A Voice Like a Choir

I was privileged last night to attend a concert and hear Amara Grace sing. Hers is no ordinary voice, nor her songs anything you have heard before. She writes all her music, and it is upbeat, witty and fun. She pounds the keyboard with great big rhythmic chords. One reviewer likened her voice to a choir. It has that kind of power.

Amara Grace
Which seems odd, coming from a small person. It seemed to me as I sat and listened that she did not own her voice but instead her voice owned her.

Amara Grace is the daughter of the amazingly talented and prolific and as yet undiscovered Truth or Consequences artist known as Ruth. I've blogged about Ruth before and will do so again.

Her abstract paintings have abundant energy and precision. "I lose myself when I paint," says Ruth. Like her daughter's songs, they too are unique.

The musical performance took place in Ruth's gallery on Broadway. About 75 chairs had been brought it. It wasn't enough. There are 25 or more standees, and when Amara finished her hour-and-a-half recital there were more than 100 stood in mesmerized applause.

You can get some sense of her—but not the full power or her voice or presence— by going to her website:

And here's a pretty good You Tube video of Amara doing Fish and Bicycle from her latest CD.  Also, check out the title song on that CD, Can't Keep a Sunrise Down, by going to her website song page. She's amazing.

I guarantee she won't disappoint. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

How Do You Keep Warm in a VW Bus?

This morning was cold and rainy. Not a nice day. But in just a few minutes I was sitting up, eating breakfast and looking at Internet headlines, toasty warm still in my pajamas. The secret? An Eberspacher gas heater.

Only a few buses sold in the United States were originally fitted with these fine examples of German engineering. A lot of buses sold in Canada, however, were, so I am told.

They are marvels of caloric output.

They blow piping hot air through duct work beneath the rear seat into the passenger compartment.

It only takes a few minutes to take the chill out of the air, and only a few more to make things really toasty inside.

The picture above shows an Eberspacher BN4 similar to the one I have in my bus. Note the fan visible at the entrance. It pulls air into the heater,  past a small combustion chamber and dumps it into your interior at a temperature of about 120 degrees.

Below is the duct beneath my rear seat where tha air comes out.

The bus I have did not come with a heater.  I did a lot of looking and scrounging on eBay and Samba to find one, and to find the duct work needed to install it.

Finding a working, adjustable fuel pump is one of the hard parts.

Adjustment part is critical for your heater to work right. If too much gas is fed to the heater it will burn rich and emit black soot and foul smelling smoke, and will eventually foul yourspark plug/glow plug.

If too little gas is fed into the heater it will not run, or will run too hot and automatically shut down.

Installing a heater requires cutting through the firewall in the engine compartment.

When I installed my heater I made a modification that I recommend. I installed an inexpensive mechanical  thermostat behind the driver's seat and wired the heater to it. It should be mechanical. A mercury switch will not work accurately on uneven ground or when the bus is in motion.

The modification did away with the need to install a cable to lengthen or shorten the on/off cycles to control temperature.

And, like a house thermostat, it can keep your bus at a constant temperature. Or trigger your heater to come on at night when the temperature drops.


VW buses are notorious for being cold to ride in.

When the outside temperature falls below 40 the heat exchangers on an air-cooled engine cannot keep up with the cold air leaking in through the cracks and worn seals and jalousie windows.

So having a gasoline heater helps when driving. The duct at the base of the back seat blows warm air forward to the driver's compartment.

The heater does require electricity to run. A good house battery is a must. It also requires gas but not much. One or two pints will keep you warm through the night.

To the left is my heater.
The fan blades are not visible. They are shielded by a plastic cover that draws air from higher in the engine compartment.

Used Eberspacher heaters are still available but good ones are increasingly rare. If you do find one make sure it is in good operating condition.

There is no one any longer that I know who repairs them. They are complicated. And parts are hard to find.

But the upside is drinking coffee and eating toast, warm in your pajamas on a frosty morning in your Volkswagen bus.