Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Black ops

The Anti-Tarantula Special Forces troop was on duty this morning.

The End of Time

Turn on any religious programming in this country and you'll hear about the fact that we're supposedly in the End Times.  For a long time I kind of agreed with the whole concept, because if we're attuned to the general mood of the planet, it seems like we're definitely hitting a critical point.  But then I thought about it some more and realized there have got to be many, many other times in human history when people thought The End was near....World Wars I and II, the time of The Plague, and when the Christians were being hunted and exterminated by the Romans (in that sense, they were the original End Times believers).  There were people in all of these eras who were just as positive as your average Texas Evangelical that God was about to call the game and bring everybody home.

But I have this theory that our belief about the end of the world ties in directly to how livable our current environment is.  As an example, one pretty well-known and well-educated pastor who believes in End Time theology -- Pastor Steve Hadley -- runs a ministry based out of Reno, Nevada.  I just got back from Reno and I'm telling you, if I lived there, I'd be convinced the world was ending soon, too.  It's a hard town to exist in, and there's a dark undercurrent that seems to pulsate through the entire place.

I felt a little that way in my former home in the San Joaquin Valley.  Most days in the year, the air is dirty and not healthy to breathe.  Gangs are gaining ground rapidly, and unemployment,  poverty, bad health and poor health habits are the norm.  It is truly the appalachia of the west in many ways.  And when you live in a place like that, the idea that at any moment you're going to be plucked up and deposited in Heaven is extremely appealing.  Just like it is in Reno, in the midst of WWII, or watching your village be wiped out by the plague back in the 1300s.

But now I live in an area where the air is clean and healthy to breathe, where people take pride in keeping their community a place people will want to come to, and where the population tends to have a higher level of education.  It's not a perfect place, but it's at least a place where there's plenty of hope and reasons to be optimistic. And the idea that we're at the end of everything is not one which seems to have much traction.  I live in a place that's pretty unspoiled -- God's Country, so to speak -- so instead of feeling the fingers of the apocalypse grasping my surroundings, instead I see the reflection of heaven, and it gives me hope.

Yet the sad thing is, in spite of, or perhaps because of all the beauty and loveliness that surrounds us, people seem to be less involved in their faith here (whatever form that faith takes).  I don't notice that people are any kinder, any more relaxed, or more caring of their fellow man here than where I came from.  In fact in some ways people here are more self-involved and less likely to greet a stranger or offer a simple kindness.  

And I wonder:  Do they appreciate the tremendous gift they've been given in being allowed to live among such loveliness?  Or can they literally not see it because they're so used to it?  This place is a lot like the one most End Times believers want most desperately to see, but feel they need to get beamed up in order to do so. No, this is not Heaven.  It's just a lovely, lovely place to live on earth.  

But that should generate as much faith and gratitude as anything I can imagine, and it's curious that among many who dwell here, it does not.

Kinda sad.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I have seen more wildlife since living here than I have anywhere else I've ever lived.  On the coast, there are whales, sea otters, and sea lions.  Here at the homestead, there are lots of lizards, snakes, deer, coyotes, birds of all sorts, and this gal, who decided to visit me on the back patio tonight.  After observing her for awhile, I took a broom and gently brushed her off the concrete and into the dirt and plants, so she wouldn't be stepped on by my dogs.  She may not fit my idea of beautiful, in fact her jointed limbs looked creepily like a hand moving its way across the patio, but she has her place here, just as all the other creatures do too (except the red ants, which I nuke into Kingdom Come with anything that's handy).  She may not fit the image I had of what I came here to steward, but she's a tenant on my land nonetheless, and I will treat her with respect as much as possible.  I just hope she doesn't get too attached to hanging out on the patio, because I do like to go barefoot there on occasion.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The newcomer

It's been a little over two weeks since we moved, and things are starting to feel a little more like home here. This morning I baked some chocolate-chip cookies for our kids who are coming here for the weekend, and I've been hanging pictures and getting the rooms just-so.
Cookies with a view!

I'm not sure how long it takes for a place to really feel like home, but I seem to remember it's anywhere from 6 months to a year.  At least that's how it felt the last time I moved.  I do know that learning my way around a new town often proves an exercise in patience.  Errands I would have run effortlessly in our old town are challenging in our new one.  For example, I decided to have a picture of the kids enlarged this week, and looked online to find a photo place who could do it.  I got the address, but failed to locate the shop.  Eventually I called them, and discovered I'd been looking in the wrong shopping center -- their place was across the street from where I was looking.

That kind of thing happens all the time.  I do it driving around town, and I do it in my kitchen.  I finally felt at home enough in the kitchen this morning to bake cookies, and I'm glad I did.  The only way to become familiar with something is to just go ahead and immerse yourself in it.  

While I'd love to be harvesting summer vegetables and making wine in earnest, right now it's all I can do to do a little baking and try not to lose my head when running errands.  That's how it is when you're a newcomer.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's overwhelming

What do you do with almost two acres of land?  That's the question I've been asking myself.  Homesteading is, by its very nature, a stay-put kind of activity.  You work your land, you add things to it which will nourish your life, and then build on what you've already built.  Moving wipes the slate clean, unless you buy land from another homesteader, which we did not.

The woman who lived here before us lived the country life with all the city conveniences.  She has a massive sprinkler system to water a massive, water-sucking lawn.  There are shrubs and flowers, but only one productive fruit tree.  It's not her fault by any means. She lived like 99 percent of America does.  But it does mean we're starting from scratch on this property as far as homesteading goes.  We need to build raised beds, re-purpose most sprinkler heads, plant fruit trees, and look at our soil to see what will grow where.  Eventually I see a small vineyard, a berry patch, a place to grow wheat and corn and a place to keep livestock.  I see a very small lawn, mainly kept for adding nitrogen-rich greens to the compost pile and to give the dogs a place to run around without getting too dirty.  

But we also need to paint inside and get flooring replaced, and it's the inside tasks which will be done first.  There's an eco-friendly purpose to those renovations, too.  A hardwood floor can be swept and doesn't need an electric vacuum cleaner to make it look pretty.  A lighter coat of paint in the house means we will be able to use less electricity-using lights and lamps, as the walls will reflect light naturally (I never realized how much light-sucking capacity dark walls have before I moved here!)

There's a method to the whole process, but at times it seems overwhelming.  But the old adage comes to mind:  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  We're chewing on that.

Friday, June 15, 2012


With a distance move comes a period of disorientation, where you are cognizant of your surroundings but on a more subconscious level, your brain and your body are adjusting -- or attempting to -- in ways you cannot see or feel.  

I've gone from a place where the heat begins early to a place where I'm in sweat pants and a sweatshirt at 9 am because it's still cold outside.  It happens again every evening;  as soon as the sun goes down it gets chilly.  Far different from Hanford, where the temperatures can easily register 90 degrees at bedtime. I've gone from living at an elevation of about 100 feet above sea level to about 1,300 feet.  Surely my body recognizes this on some level and is making adjustments.

Then there's the chaos factor.  There is chaos in maneuvering around a new house.  Several times I've gone into the bedroom and turned left to go into the closet (where it was in our old house) only to find myself walking into a wall.  Our house is something of an obstacle course right now, what with all the boxes, the stuffed garage, and the various things laying about in different places than they were at our last home.  

It's going to take awhile to get used to, and may be the reason I've found myself more accident prone this week.  I've sliced open my thumb (with a sharp pair of scissors while attempting to break down a moving box) and slashed my arm (moving donatables to Goodwill) and surely it is no wonder that, if left to my own devices, I will happily sleep 11 hours.  I'm tired.  This move has been a long and drawn out process and, simply said, I'm not as young as I used to be.  

It's stress, pure and simple.  Even the place you most longed to be requires an adjustment period, as your body, brain and spirit settle in.  Maybe what the American Indians believe is true is actually right -- that when you travel any distance it takes awhile for your spirit to catch up to the rest of you.  I think I'm going to just stop for a few days and wait.  Those boxes don't really need unpacking today.  It's been a long journey to where we are now, and perhaps that needs to be respected and honored with some stillness and thought.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Stranger in Paradise

The big, bad part of the move is now over and done with, which means once again I will have time to blog, use the bathroom and brush my teeth on a regular basis, all things which it seemed like there was not enough time in the world to accomplish while there were moving trucks and boxes everywhere.

As of this moment, I'd say we have at least half the boxes unpacked and our house in reasonable order, so I'm more able to take my surroundings into account.  I'm a stranger in a strange land.  A stranger in paradise.  First, let's talk about the view from our property.  Panoramic, looking over hills studded with oak trees, the deep green mountains of the Santa Lucia range off in the distance, and the lights of Paso Robles twinkling in the west at night.  When I go to bed, my bedroom window is filled with Scorpius, Sagittarius and the effervescent clouds of the Milky Way, which I can see from my bed.  There's a deep quiet, broken only by the occasional bark of a dog or screech of an owl.  

Even the normal chores feel strangely and awesomely wonderful (and I don't use the word "awesome" lightly here).  Yesterday I was driving to Trader Joe's, down Highway 101, on a bright, beachy morning when the breeze was cool, the air was clean, and the scenery stunning.  This was my view on a simple trip to buy groceries.  

It's going to take awhile for all this to sink in.  I catch myself, time and again, entranced by the views, the scenery, the clear blue skies.  It's a long way from where I came from, where the land was flat, the sky dusty and dirty, and our only view was of our neighbor's trampoline and basketball hoop, poking up over the fence before meeting a sea of rooflines that obscured the sunset.

Take my hand
I'm a stranger in paradise
All lost in a wonderland
A stranger in paradise
If I stand starry-eyed
That's a danger in paradise
For mortals who stand beside an angel like you
I saw your face and I ascended
Out of the commonplace into the rare somewhere
In space I hang suspended
Until I know there's a chance that you care
Won't you answer this fervent prayer
Of a stranger in paradise
Don't send me in dark despair
From all that I hunger for
But open your angel's arms
To this stranger in paradise
And tell him that he need be
A stranger no more