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Fire & Flood: Finding Balance in the Extremes

Posted Jul 07 2008 7:15pm

Every afternoon the clouds roll in, and every evening the smoke fills the air. It’s a thick haze that smells like charred Juniper and melted Pine sap, and turns the sunset a rusty gold. There are fires burning fiercely a hundred miles away in several different directions, and the late afternoon winds bring us a visceral reminder of how close one hundred miles really is. The rains may come any day, and the old people in the village anxiously scan the skies every so often, praying the clouds thicker and darker. Willing rain to wet the dusty ground.

Welcome to New Mexico: land of enchantment and wellspring of both fire and flood. There’s no gentle in between here, no “it’s all good” drone of mediocrity or absent minded mercy from place or people. The SW is renowned for its magic and spirit, and with all that personality comes a harsh intensity. The rural inhabitants of the area reflect this in their way and manner, often being both crusty and sweet, deeply private and hugely giving. To live here in this place and with these people requires a certain stubbornness, a good wild streak and a whole lot of perseverance.

To keep my little weedpatch going in the dry, windy weather I haul several buckets of water each morning to the garden. To get the dishes washed I haul another couple of buckets to the kitchen, and then back to chiseling out caulk out of the large broken window. Loba chops wood, getting a good store of wood built up in the shed before the rains come and drench every broken stick so wet they’ll never light. Wolf uses the small chainsaw to cut the wood down to a splittable size. Rain barrels get washed out and re-arranged beneath the roof spouts in preparation for the coming water. With no refrigeration, food has to be watched and processed carefully in this heat. Fresh killed meat must be dealt with immediately and cooked right away while veggies have to be wrapped and stored in the coolest possible place where critters won’t get at them (hopefully).

Homesteading is both idyllic and hard, time consuming and ultimately freeing. Visitors sometimes wonder what we do all day, since we don’t go to typical 8-5 jobs and some even imagine we spend much of our time just hanging out in the shade or idling by the river. This always gives us a good hearty laugh, since our work hours are more like 7-11, with Loba often getting up at about 5:30 to get the wood stove going and breakfast started and with Wolf and I sometimes working till midnight on projects, student curriculum and emails. Even Rhiannon works much of the day, dividing her time between outdoor work, kitchen help, school (year round) and exuberant bouts of playing in between. And when we grownups do take time out to play, it’s still intense and focused on concentrated nourishment. Of course, because our work is what we love, it all feels rewarding and fun even when we’re exhausted at the end of the day. Indoor work is accompanied by great music and outdoor music is accompanied by birdsong and wind.

It’s the balance to it all — the hard and the fun, the intensity and the bliss, the work and the play, the smoke in the air and the river washing its scent from our skin. One doesn’t come without the other, as life never comes without death, and it’s up to us to notice and take it in. To give each aspect its due respect and ceremony while integrating the whole of the experience into our beings and selves, continually becoming more connected and more ourselves.

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