Driving to Maine: Day 12

I’m going to keep this kind of short tonight, as it’s already 11:15. There’s no Internet access here above the tiny Rocky Mountain town of Howard, so I’m writing in Word on my trusty laptop and will upload tomorrow on my way to Cheyenne, Wyoming. I’ve got myself propped up in my tent with Cisco’s old Pillow Pet (buffalo variety) and a Mexican blanket. My faithful traveling companion, Miss Kitty, is here by my side.

 Along with my pink plastic digeridoo. See, Bruce, I brought it!

Along with my pink plastic digeridoo. See, Bruce, I brought it!

The Mini got me up a really steep gravel road to get to this place today. He’s such a champ! Just never ceases to amaze me. I don’t think a Mini Cooper has ever been seen on these mountain roads in the Rockies—there are very few people up here, but they all have Jeeps and 4x4s like sensible people. The road up to my destination today is off Highway 50 out of Salida, about 3-4 miles of gravel road above the gorgeous Arkansas River. In places deeply rutted and ridged, the way up was a challenge for the fully loaded Mini, and I often had to use first gear to keep going.

 Good thing I detailed the Mini before I started the trip! Lol.

Good thing I detailed the Mini before I started the trip! Lol.

My brother- and sister-in-law, who are homesteading in these mountains, own a 37-acre parcel with a spectacular view of the Salida valley below. The elevation here is over 9,000 feet, and as we talked and caught up after 10 years of not seeing each other, I watched as promising-looking afternoon clouds formed right over us and moved off south down the range.

 Ron and Mel and me. Ron had just cracked me up while I was trying to take the damn picture.

Ron and Mel and me. Ron had just cracked me up while I was trying to take the damn picture.

Melodee, a fellow weather fanatic, says those clouds are now on their way to hammer Kansas. (She’s hilarious and I love her.) The monsoon season here starts this week, and afternoon thunderstorms are in the forecast every day. That’s good, because the well they dug when they moved here is starting to run dry. And I'm excited, because all those thunderheads are going east with me on the way to Maine.

Ron just turned the house generators off for the night, and man, is it quiet out here now. I mean, quiet. I can hear tiny creatures rustling in the dirt and trees outside the tent, and birds making little sleepy noises. There’s something so essential about this kind of quiet. So primal and so very necessary to the human spirit. I think we’re all suffering profoundly from a lack of silence, which I find to be deeply healing and calming. Many find it terrifying if they're not used to it. Also spending time alone.

Mel and Ron bought this place last fall and have been building their dream home ever since. They have a used tractor, good trucks, and their son, my nephew Seth, who loves to work on the land. For showers, Ron fills up the instant water heater by hand, dumping 5-gallon jugs into some kind of container on the roof. He needs a ladder to do it. Mel turned the water heater and pump on for me tonight by applying clamps to a car battery. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated a shower more!

I’ve also never seen my friends so happy and healthy. They say they felt seriously stuck in the rat race back in California, and although they miss some of the modern comforts that most of us take for granted, they’ve never felt so good. Stress-induced bad habits have faded away and working the land toward a common vision has brought them closer together and made them tough.

I’m just incredibly proud of these people. Seth, an accomplished and award-winning BMX rider, has carved incredible mountain bike trails through the woods for advanced riders. Mel, herself a highly skilled competitive biker, has her own smaller track where she teaches local kids how to ride. The family envisions transforming their rocky, hilly property into a unique bike park featuring downhill, slope-style flow trails, jumping sections, dual-slalom, rhythm sections, expert jump sections, and skill building sections. From the looks of it, they're well on their way. According to Mel, Seth announced to her recently, "Mom, I love using the tractor even more than riding my bike!"

 Mel's new native garden and part of Seth's BMX jumps below them.

Mel's new native garden and part of Seth's BMX jumps below them.

 Did I mention that Seth is a championship BMX racer? Yeah, he does this for fun.

Did I mention that Seth is a championship BMX racer? Yeah, he does this for fun.

 Mel and Seth, with the start of their new house to the right.

Mel and Seth, with the start of their new house to the right.

 Cisco's cousin Amber, who just graduated from college and into whose arms Cisco took his first step. A wise and funny young woman.

Cisco's cousin Amber, who just graduated from college and into whose arms Cisco took his first step. A wise and funny young woman.

Ron, a master mason, and Seth work construction jobs in town and are highly esteemed among the locals. Apparently, it’s a rare thing around here to have tradesmen show up when they say they will, much less possess the skills and experience these men do. People reward them well and they’re booked months out because of it. An experienced GIS mapper and field analyst who worked with her brother (my kid's dad) for 20 years at Watershed Environmental back on the California Central Coast, Mel's now working with local environmental agencies to get them caught up with implementing plans for conservation and land management. Mel’s very concerned about the water situation in the near future and wants to help plan for its wise management. Her new business, Goodland Environmental Consulting & Education, is just the thing for this area. They’re way behind the 8 ball out here with conservation and resource mapping, and the lovely, small town of Salida (pop. 5,000) is set to boom.

It was so, so good to catch up with these guys. I consider them family, and I’ve missed them a ton. I think I’ve really been longing for that close connection. I’ve been lonely without it. Tonight we sat in their snug, tiny little house, which was here when they moved in, and talked and watched BMX racing on a nice TV. They told me of their plans for the big new house whose bones already rise into the sky 25 yards away. They dug the holes for the big vertical beams themselves, through the heavily rocky soil here.

 The family's current quarters.

The family's current quarters.

 A cozy, well-stocked kitchen.

A cozy, well-stocked kitchen.

 Mel and the ferocious-looking but so-gentle pitbull Onyx at their observation posts.

Mel and the ferocious-looking but so-gentle pitbull Onyx at their observation posts.

It’s interesting to see what this family is undertaking in light of my visit yesterday to the Earthship community. I think this impulse to move toward self-sufficiency and creating fulfilling, meaningful lives is spreading and picking up steam. People like Mel and Ron are really out there doing it. I’m so proud of their courage, strength, and vision.

Update: 1AM
Lightning storm in progress across the next mountain range! Holy smokes. A giant, anvil-topped cumulonimbus storm is illuminating everything for hundreds of miles around. I'd seen mammatocumulous clouds forming right over the house earlier, so this wasn't a big surprise, but it's just spectacular! What a show.