April 25, 2012

5 year old greywater orchard bearing fruit

Five years ago, we were only a couple months away from moving into the first floor of our new house that we'd built from the foundation up with our bare hands. One of the finishing touches on our yard was to install a greywater irrigation system with the intent of growing fruit trees and saving water at the same time in a semidesert climate. I'm happy to say that the results have been one of the most amazing things I've experienced while living in Mexico.

Before (view of our front yard, May 2007)

After (view of our front yard w/five year old orchard, April 2012)

I added a couple other before and after photos and a bit of an explanation about greywater to my ecological gardening page on my site, Los Mesquites. The update is partially in preparation for a greywater workshop I'm planning to give next month, but inspired tonight by a salad I made with the last grapefruit I plucked from the tree of this past season's crop. I call this picture 'grapefruit, AFTER.' :)

In addition to the grapefruit,  we've been picking mulberries this month, which have been few but tasty. Standing under the mulberry tree and handing fresh fruit to my daughter who really enjoys them, I can't help but think that there are few things as satisfying as growing a tree from a tiny sprout on your washwater and then enjoying the fruit that they bear.

Before (view of recently installed greywater drainpipers, May 2007)

After (view of mulberry tree with pomegranate, guava, and daughter in background, April 2012)

April 22, 2012

We Are the Earth

The mantra "Earth Day Everyday" has rung clear as a bell in my head ever since I first started celebrating the holiday as a youth, probably in high school, possibly earlier. I've been an environmentalist so long that when my art therapist asked me to picture an image of "my authentic self" for a self-reflective assignment, I couldn't come up with anything other than visual images of nature. One, two, three, four days later, and I still can't come up with anything other than rainbow colors, rivers, forests, a crescent moon, silhouetted mountains.

But is it because I am an environmentalist (which term I once loathed to admit publicly for all the negative press the term has gotten over the years, but now embrace wholeheartedly with pride) or is it because, at heart, we really are inseparable from the Earth that sustains us? This is not a philosophical question I'm asking. I really do think that the reason why "Earth Day Everyday" is so hard for some folks to adopt is because little by little, our human community has grown further and further from awareness of its roots as utterly, inextricably, and incredibly dependent on the Earth's ecosystems that sustain it.

Granted, not every society or individual has that same level of detachment from Pachamama. Thank goodness, otherwise we would not have so much indigenous wisdom to drawn on as we try to right our often erroneous path with regard to how to best tread on this planet. Thank Goddess for invisibly steering the hand of passionate scientists who decode the inherent wisdom of Earth systems and sustainable technologies that may allow us humans to inhabit the third rock from the sun for a more peaceful and prolonged period of time.

Even though it's Earth Day everyday at our house, I'm not bragging because I know I could always do more. I know I have way too big of an ecological footprint than I could have (we obviously don't have 2.19 Earths, my score), and that I make way too many excuses for not doing things as ecologically as I could. That might be an intimidating statement for someone who doesn't do the type of things that we do here on a daily basis, like buy organic, use cloth diapers, irrigate our fruit trees with greywater (used washwater), collect rainwater, feed kitchen scraps to our chickens and collect our own eggs, plant native cacti, make my own herbal remedies, and recycle practically all our solid waste.

Despite doing all of the above things, we're still "on the grid" in that we use gas, electricity, city water, buy produce that probably was farmed with sludge or sprayed with pesticides. We drive an old truck that burns good old-fashioned gasoline, and don't ever walk or bike to the grocery store (I claim only partial responsibility for that—the local roads are way too dangerous for us to currently consider it an option). Okay, so I need to get more involved in local Queretaro politics...umm, sure. I'll get right on that tomorrow.

But this guilt is not stemming from a desire to want to "keep up with the Joneses." Rather, it's a frustration that there's aspects of our lifestyle that I'd green over in a heartbeat. If only the government would do their part and put in bike lanes. If only organic food and solar panels were less expensive. If only biodiesel was more popular here. If only, if only, if only. So I do what I can, and change the things I have control over. I'm working on it, and I assuage my guilt by knowing that's better than many.  I also avail myself of inspiring ideas on how to do what we're doing better, like those being carried out at my former coworkers and good friends at Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center in New Mexico (hi Amanda & Andy! You're my EDED heroes!).

One thing I decide I can do in addition to greening my own lifestyle is help inform others how they too can tread more lightly on the planet. That's how I became an educator actually. I think people would be surprised to find out, especially now compared to 20 or even 10 years ago (shocked I can say that with authority), that greening their daily lifestyle is a lot easier than they might think. It isn't actually that much more expensive, especially if you're into D-I-Y. And even when small things are a little more pricey, like food, just think of the words of Birke Baehr "Either pay the farmer, or pay the hospital." I love that an 11-year old could re-inspire curmudgeonly old me.

Which is why today, on "Earth Day," I permitted myself to feel proud of the little things we do every day. Sometimes they're annoying (dealing with chickens), inconvenient (turning a subterranean valve covered with cobwebs to direct our greywater to the right fruit trees), expensive (organic dairy products), or just plain gross (rinsing cloth diapers). I don't do these things to feel good about myself—I do them for the rest of the Earth's inhabitants, like wildlife, and also, for our children, and their children, to be a model for those who might also decide it's time to start giving the Earth the due respect she deserves.

p.s. I forgot to mention that I actually did do something special just for Earth Day, which was plant a pine tree outside our house, who along with a banana tree and a few other ornamentals, will soon receive rinsewater from the kitchen sink. Even though digging the hole wore me out, I just think of how beautiful that tree will be 10 years from now. But wait a second, does that mean I could see myself here in ten years? Hmmm....

April 16, 2012

A Time for Growth

Time has a way of flying even faster than normal when you get older, and as I've found, especially when I had a baby. What I once noted by benchmarks such graduations, new jobs, weddings, etc. is now measured at a much more accelerated rate. Weeks counted during pregnancy, and then inches and pounds of growth in the first year, all her new behaviors and new words become my new daily reminders of the passage of time. Her growth has almost entirely absorbed my mental attention, except that I also have a partner and work—two aspects of my life that were everything to me before I had a child. Making space for everything has become the new challenge, quality time for my partner, for myself, for everything else that I love to do besides raising my daughter.

The other night I mentioned to a friend and to my husband that one thing I really miss from our single days in California was going out to clubs to go dancing. "There's a time for everything," he replied, which I interpreted as he'd given up on the idea of ever doing that again, in contrast to me, who still holds the hope that we'll carve out that time for ourselves again even if it's not as often as before. But I held off on applying that pressure to an already overworked Dad. "Well, not like there's any great clubs for us to go here anyways," I joked.

Last November, when my daughter was barely over a year old, I had a medical emergency that, for economic reasons, led me to take on some part-time work in addition to writing Amor and Exile. Since then, my daughter is now a year and a half old and I haven't written a single new chapter in the book. It was a difficult task, holding off on writing for what felt like such a long period of time. Nonetheless, I have no regrets about my decision to make us a two income family. Working outside the home forced me to streamline my schedule and reorganize priorities. In addition to swimming twice a week, it gave me some sorely needed time to myself.

On the other hand, I found myself longing a little too much to "get back" to the projects I'd begun to establish since before she was born: finish Amor and Exile, and make progress on environmental projects such as our organic garden and local environmental education efforts. But I still wasn't ready for it to be one or the other—so I dropped down to three days a week, albeit longer hours two of those days, in order to see if I could fit a little more of everything into my life.

It seemed ambitious at first—but after two weeks of spring break where, instead of taking vacation, I worked hard on my next chapter and the garden while also continuing to teach English, I saw that I could indeed make advances in one area of my life without entirely foregoing another. It felt blissful to get back to writing, and the mantra "do what makes you happy" never felt so right, affirming what I suspected this past year, that writing has really gotten under my skin.

Now I'm nearing completion of my third chapter in our book, and we'll be back into collaborative editing in May. As if the silent hand of fate was at work as I simultaneously requested new growth in my life, in this first week of my new schedule, I've already got two appointments scheduled to explore some new environmental education opportunities in the community. At first I just felt really lucky, but I also know that they wouldn't have materialized if I hadn't come up with them as an idea in the first place. Making them happen will also come at a sacrifice—less time to work out, socialize, etc. But if the past is any indication of how good I'll feel knowing that I've actualized something I've set my mind to, I should be okay.

And when my little girl, who was not too long ago a little baby, turns 19 months this week, I'll be reminded that yes, it's often difficult to make the best decisions: it pains me when she cries when I slip away into my home office, but she also sweetly offers her babysitter a kiss goodbye and hugs me even tighter when we're back together. When I see her doing things, at such a young age, like diapering her dolls, reading with her feet, feeding the animals, hanging laundry or watering plants, pretending to talk on the phone, being kind to others, or just simply smiling or wanting to be with us, I also remember that, she pursues the things she most loves in life because she sees her mom doing the same. 

April 3, 2012

Henhouse Rules Part II (Bloody Chickens!) VIDEO UPDATE

The morning that our second hen's round of chicks hatched. Everyone was co-existing happily and co-parenting seemed to be working for the two hens, at least for the time being.

By the next morning, however, the tone had changed drastically and one of the hens had done some serious pecking damage to another's head, as I described in my last post. After closer inspection it looks like the "aggressor" also sustained some pecks to the head herself, which might be what started the whole fallout. Three days after administering first aid and injections to the badly injured hen, she was finally drinking water and walking around again. One of her eyes is even trying to open again, though I'm afraid the scar tissue might be an issue.

I've since placed the aggressive mother in a pen of her own with the chicks for everyone's safety. I got some feedback from a friend that chickens can peck each other out of boredom and to hang something in their coop for them to take their pecking out on. I have to say that I really think it was just a freak occurrence sparked by a very strong maternal instinct combined with fighting breed genes. The hens had already been together in the nest box for 3 weeks with no problems, and only 1 day together with the chicks free in the coop. We've had problems with ranch hens getting aggressive with leghorns in the past, but that's when they haven't had access to the yard which they now almost always do.

I'll have to see when and if I can put the two hens back together in the same space—maybe not until the chicks become more independent. In the meantime, I hope the second mom makes a full recovery and can go on to raise another brood—this time by herself—because although she avoided certain death, she did lose out on the opportunity to mother the chicks that hatched from the eggs she brooded for almost a month.