Archive for the ‘Our Life in The Wilderness’ Category

Blooms at The Edge

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

We woke up to a flash flood warning, never a surprise during the Southwest’s monsoon season, but perhaps a bit of wishful thinking given how dry things have been.  The burned areas upriver from us are subject to erosion when we get the pinpoint microbursts this area is so famous for, but with the mountains no where’s near saturated, if they hit even a single ridge over it means the river will remain low enough to cross in a 4×4.  We nonetheless took out much of what we need for putting on this week’s HerbFolk Gathering, so that if by chance we do have to hike and wade out, this time it will only be with a few things wrapped in plastic and held high above our heads.  And if so, we will be ecstatic as always, at the exhilarating feel of the water, the veil of mists that hang like clinging children to the sacred Kachina cliffs towering above the river.  And whether in a vehicle or on foot, we will look wistfully to the cottonwoods whose leaves have already begun to lighten in color, knowing that we may have already missed the falling of at least some of their leaves by the time we get back home.  We will nod in the direction of the beaver dams, wondering where they might build next.  And wistfully pass through the narrowing of the canyon that feels to nearly everyone like the opening or gate to the magic that is this place: the Anima Sanctuary.  It is the edge, between the wild and the domestic, an edge we cross in one direction in order to affect our species and our world, and then cross again to return to our troth, our home, our venue of enchantment.  There are other edges we all face, always the stage surprise and change, sometimes terrifying, often incredibly beautiful, a site for startlingly different blossoms… ever the chance for creative disruption and surprise.

Talk to you on the other side.

–Jesse Wolf Hardin

Wild Edges by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Interview with Jesse Wolf Hardin – New Mexico Author

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Intro: For the release of my partner Wolf Hardin’s newest book, Pancho Villa’s Motorcycle, I asked our friend Becca if she would interview him about it and its creation.  The following first appeared in the locally loved Glenwood Gazette, and is excerpted  for you here.  Both this book and others of interest to rural folks, history lovers, outdoorsmen and women, can be found on the new website I made for him.  –Kiva Rose

Wolf with Sombrero-72dpi

with Catron County Author
Jesse Wolf Hardin

Interviewed by Becca McTrauchle


Q) You write about events in this area in your book about the people and the firearms of the historic West, called Old Guns & Whispering Ghosts.  Your novel The Medicine Bear takes place in Arizona’s White Mountains, the Gila forest, and Columbus, New Mexico in the early 1900s.  Now we have your collection of short stories set in this area, Pancho Villa’s Motorcycle.  You may be the most prolific writer hanging a hat in this area since Zane Grey.  What inspires this obsession?

A) The region of Southwest New Mexico and Southeast Arizona has a unique flavor all of its own.  When a person is likeably odd, standing out from the generic crowds of the day, and interesting in an exaggerated way, we might call them a “character”… well, this land here is not just the stage and backdrop to our mortal play, it is itself a character in a very similar way.  It may look like other parts of the planet, but it feels different… with a rough edged authenticity, an almost magical or spiritual ambiance, and enough hardships and inconveniences to attract only the hard headed and self-reliant.  It’s mix of Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo cowboy culture provides an increasingly rare example of the libertarian thinking, community spirit, and backwoods values that once characterized all the so-called Wild West.  On the other hand, this area is emblematic of rural America in general, from the love of nature and wide open spaces to the determination to do things one’s own way.  In Pancho Villa’s Motorcycle, I write about a countrified sensibility that family farmers in Maine and swamp-rooted Cajuns in Louisiana can relate to.  And for my many city dwelling readers, the Western ethos in this book can be inspiration to live a more authentic, adventurous, enjoyable, honorable, purpose-driven, and even heroic life.


Q) What caused you to settle here, and how long ago?

A) I moved here from Taos in 1979.  It’s been nearly 4 decades now, since I was vehicle-less and having to walk the 10 miles to Jakes’s Grocery for supplies.  That’s over two-thirds of my life, enough time to be tempered, and tested, and time for the place to help sculpt me into what I am today.  I arrived with a passionate love for the land, and over the decades I came to find many of the same qualities in its people.  Whenever I celebrate wild animals, un-dammed rivers or western history, I am also celebrating every man or woman today who dares to be different, refuses to be bottled up and controlled, and stands up for what they believe is right.

Nothing I Can Do-72dpi

Q) You write for a lot of different audiences it seems.

A) I want to reach and affect as many kinds of people as possible, and one does that by relating to folks through the ways that we share in common, and in the ways that each best understands.  Important concepts like awareness, critical thinking, healthy wildness, our liberty, and taking personal responsibility can all be expressed in the language of gardening or in terms of balanced ecosystems, in the metaphors of attentive down-home cooking or using the example of riding a rodeo bull, good parenting or resisting a government’s injustices.  For another thing, I am a complex person, and I’m not fairly represented unless I express my loving father, sensitive cook, and inner wrangler sides… as well as my commitments to land conservation, and my determined resistance to onerous government regulations and invasion of our privacy in the name of security

Of everything I’ve ever written, Pancho’s comes closest to me talking off the cuff, showing all sides of myself and all sides of the issues, uncensored, unguarded, and unrestrained.  This is the “Straight Shot,” to quote the title of my first Catron County newspaper column.  It hopefully features enough focus on sentiment, beauty and enchantment to make some crusty ol’ boys squirm, while equally discomforting any “politically correct” readers by my making fun of a trippy New Age visitor and extolling the logic of the .50 caliber rifle.  Many of my friends and fellow residents consider this a simple case of telling it like it is, while my detractors at least have to concede that I am an equal opportunity offender!

Agree or not, we always look each other in the eye and speak our minds out here in the country.

Agree or not, we always look each other in the eye and speak our minds out here in the country.

Q) There’s 107 stories in Pancho Villa’s Motorcycle, about everything from the democratic system to Elfego Baca’s shootout, the wisdom of onetime local character Sammy Giron, and heirloom treadle sewing machines and the important mending of our lives and our communities.  That’s quite a range of topics.  So tell us how you decided on the title you did.  Pancho really had a motorcycle?

A) The cover photograph shows Villa admiring a bike that he was being shown for the first time.  While most comfortable astride a spirited horse, this famous revolutionary and ex-bandit was quick to accept the offer to take it for a spin.  History does not tell us if he dumped it or not, though he certainly fell hard when he was ambushed and assassinated in his touring car not very many years later.  Curiously enough, it was an Indian brand motorcycle, an interesting fact given Pancho’s Native American ancestry, and his raiders use of bows and arrows against the machine guns of the U.S. army when, in 1916, he ordered the first military invasion of this country since the War of 1812.

Pancho Villa's Motorcycle Front Cover-72dpi

I think that this iconic cover photo evokes the twists in this region’s poignant history, the clash between technology and land-based lifestyles, between modernity and the old ways, between the fear and lies of our age and an ageless, honest, free, courageous, and plumb-enjoyable way of being.

As a personal aside, I can tell you that I owned some kind of motorcycle from the time I was 12 and riding a Tote-Gote mini-bike, including Harleys and a 1946 Indian Chief during my biker outlaw phase… symbols and tools of my independence.  And yet I gladly sold my final motorcycle, a classic Triumph Bonneville 650, to my friend Tuffy Jones who co-managed Uncle Bill’s Bar in the village of Reserve… anything in order to make the semi-annual payments and hold on to my treasured home.

Q) What else is on the plate for you?

A) I have two more books coming out in the next year, first The Healing Terrain about sense of place, the importance of home, connecting to the land, gardening medicinal herbs, gathering wild foods and so on.  And the second being Lawmen of The Old West Unmasked, exposing the real lives of some famous badge wearers like Billy The Kid’s murderer Pat Garrett, and Wyatt Earp, the con artist known in his day as the “fighting pimp.”… while bringing to light the deeds of some lesser known but truly admirable and heroic lawdogs including local characters Arizona’s Bucky O’Neil and Ranger Burt Mossman, and Reserve’s own icon of oversized huevos, Elfego Baca.  Then maybe a book on the traveling Medicine Shows that provided health care and entertainment to the rural people of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  And I’ll continue coediting Plant Healer Magazine, providing information on healthy herbs of all kinds and breaking our dependence on federal health care and often harmful pharmaceuticals.  Herbalists have a few things in common with the finest of frontier men and women, in keeping tradition alive, and in taking risks to do good.

Q) Last question: I see that the illustrations for Pancho Villa’s Motorcycle include some of your drawings, photographs of old time Western movie actors, images of the region’s varied landscapes, and even a photo of the Men’s Room door of Uncle Bill’s Bar with its wonderful painting of a cowboy and his horse stopping to relieve themselves at the edge of the trail.  Is there maybe some consistent theme that you planned?

A) You gotta be kidding! (smiles)

Q) OK, good enough! Thank you much!

Pancho Villa's Motorcycle by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Pancho Villa’s Motorcycle by Jesse Wolf Hardin


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Pancho Villa’s Motorcycle:  Wild West Sentiment, Backwoods Humor, & Outlaw Wisdom For a World Gone Astray

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A Taste of Snow

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

A Taste of Snow

…has kissed the cliffs and trees of the Sweet Medicine Canyon, in the wild Gila of the American Southwest.  In these years of less and less precipitation, we are especially excited to see, feel, and taste the gently falling flakes.  The view out the window is almost mesmerizing, or at least, makes a perfect excuse for ignoring the laptop and the writing for a few minutes.

I spent the last two days laying out nearly 250 pages of the Spring issue of Plant Healer, creating many more art posters for you all, and catching up on emails while Kiva drove 60 miles to the nearest town with faster internet.  Her mission was to upload the files for the new book of interviews, “21st Century Herbalists.”  We plan to start selling the EBook and taking advance orders on March 4th, the day of the magazine’s release.  By early April we will start shipping special limited edition Hard-Cover copies.

Sleep has been hard for me lately, but it gives me a chance to hear our resident Ringtail Cat (in the raccoon family, not related to cats) as she fools around in the next she made in the ceiling.  It’s mighty strange that we never had one den in the house until Kiva accepted them as her medicine animals, and now one likes to sleep directly above her head where we sleep in the loft.

She doesn’t go outside much in the snow, we’ve noticed, likely displeased with the wetness and not wanting to be easily seen against the covering of white.



As you can see from this picture, our other wild house guest prefers to stay dry as well.  If you look closely, you can see Miss Rebecca Cottontail taking refuge in the “Oasis” under the patio chairs.



Miss Cottontail still lets us come within a few feet of her with no nervousness, and it seems she feels safe and comforted under the house and in earshot of its soundtrack of old time Americana and Alternative Latin music.

Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny again, so I wanted to get a few pics of the weather to you before it changes back to the normal dry and warm… and before the final 50 pages of the magazine call me back to its creation.

Stay warm yourselves, and enjoy what looks to be an early Spring most places.

Letter From A Helper

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Letter From A Helper

Intro: Today we welcomed the arrival of our newest on-site helpers, Hannah and Fritz, costume maker and circus master, students of self sufficiency, interesting and darn nice folks.  And last night, we sadly said our farewells to helper Avraham.  No one coming to assist has yet been more diligent or dependable, focused or grateful, and it was emotional to bid him adieu… as goes on to gather new skills as an EMT, following his heart and calling, taking responsibility for making the choices that will define his destiny.  Below is the text of one of two hand-written letters he left with us upon departure, a blessing shared in the hopes you will find it as moving and hopeful as we did.  We are thankful not just for his assistance on important projects, but for the opportunity to help clarify and affirm – even in smallest measure – what will be his insights into, and gifts to the world.

Dear Wolf

Your home and the people here are some of the greatest things I’ve experienced.  Being here has given me nourishment, contentment, insight and fulfillment.  Coming from a society where a true purpose is hard to find – and opportunities to be appreciated for who you really are, are hard to come by – I feel the greatest love and honor working here doing my daily tasks and knowing that I am a part of something, something great.

Hearing yours and Loba’s stories, seeing Dan’l and Don’s devotion to this place despite their own responsibilities, and listening to Kiva speak for hour to the most minute details of the herbal world, have all been inspiration to me and my calling.

And the land… As dry, rocky, and strange as it may seem to someone who has lived near lush, green wetlands and woodlands his whole life, it has taught me something too. A deeper lesson in who I am for sure, but the experience to go along with it is fortunately unforgettable.

Walking the trails, river-banks and mountainsides has left me feeling the most content, natural and “in place” I’ve ever felt. The law of impermanence has never seemed so real and my attitude towards change has never been so accepting.

There have always been ups and downs for me here as moods tend to sway, especially in circumstances of solitude and introspection. But throughout these moments, whether I was aware of it or not, there has always been harmony for me. Harmony with Anima, harmony with love, harmony with the land, and harmony with you.

And even though we saw very little of each other during my time here, I feel extremely bonded by all that has happened, and have felt deeply the joy of working with you.

When I leave here, I will walk strongly on my path and always remember my brother Wolf.

And to the future I look forward, working with you, and all the others out there trying to make a difference.

May our strength prevail through the darkest of days.  May our work continue to nourish us, and may our gifts and treasures spread like wildfire.

Blessings to you,


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Courage & Stupidity: It’s A Fine Line, They Say

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Courage & Stupidity:
It’s A Fine Line, They Say

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Wise risks and stupid choices…

gambling on an overloaded raft in a roaring flood… chancing to live our dreams.

In the course of my life, I’ve had to be comfortable conversing in the clipped sentences of martial jargon, thanks to early years in military school, and with the limited but loaded vernacular of the outlaw bikers I hung with after I ran away.  Thanks to my diverse and checkered past, I can speak fluent “poet” and “revolutionary”, and can carry on in the language of “hard-bit logger” as well as “sentimental tree hugger”, talk a bit of “barrio” and make out more than a few words of “academia”.  My history and firearms vocabularies are extensive, making interesting conversation possible with both college professors and self described gun nuts.  I utilize terms and expressions particular to veterinarians and veterans, aesthetic focused artists and mumbly Latin-mouthed botanists, evoking the inflections of hell defying preachers as much as pissed off protestors.  In every case, there are trademark aphorisms that denote each group’s values and attitudes, prejudices and priorities, in the course of teaching broadly helpful truisms to anyone able and willing to hear.

One of the passed around here in the still rural West, is that “there’s a fine line between courage and stupidity.”

It could be considered courageous, for example, to gallop your horse to the front of a stampeding cattle herd in a bid to slow and turn them, before they dash to their deaths off the nearby cliffs like panicky investors in some failed banker’s securities scheme.  Courageous, to risk a whiskey bottle to the head in the course of defending the honor of a woman.  Or to face off against the New Mexico State Police and U.S. Air Force with nothing but an antiquated Winchester rifle and copy of the Bill of Rights, when the government tells you they are taking your lifelong ranch away… to expand their White Sands missile testing range.

One might think it purely stupid, however, to get drunk and ride a bull through the window of an eastern New Mexico bar, or to break bottles over your own head just to show some gal how tough you really are.  Stupid, to tell a Texas sheriff that no “tin-star hick-ass agent of oppression” has the right to goad, pulling you over just because you looked out of place on that lonely stretch of desert road.

Such expressions can be applied to anyone’s life.  Quitting a job that you feel wastes your life or deadens your spirit, especially in financially difficult times: pretty doggone brave.  Getting fired for telling the boss off, a month before retirement: potentially short on smarts.  Sticking with a difficult relationship, because of real love, a desire to help, and signs of progress: courageous without question.  A wife staying with a man who berates and belittles her, “for the sake of the kids”: simply dumb, dumb, dumb.

When it comes to the herbalists we know, it’s brave for them to defy the cultural bias against natural healing and in favor of biased research and pharmaceuticals, to risk being ridiculed over either the primitivity of their craft or occasional habit of talking to plants, to spend money on books and schools with no assurance they are devoting themselves to a career that will pay them back.  But what’s less than smart, is whenever a few practitioners go so far as to discount all scientific research, or don’t readily utilize modern conventional medicine even when clearly advisable, or nurse an emotional attachment to having either mass appeal or official acceptance.

So often though, it’s not really clear which we are until after the fact, the test, the crux, the close or finish line.  If I’d been killed while living with criminals and crazies on the street, it would have seemed far more dumb than courageous.  Or if was never able to make an income or have an affect on the world, due to a stupid stunt like turning my back on formal education, certificates and degrees.  Or if I’d ended up penniless and back to sleeping under bridges, after selling the engine out of my only vehicle and school-bus home for the down payment on some wild and remote land.  Or if no one had attended our herbal conference or read our new herbal magazine, after launching them in the middle of an economic recession.

If such things seem brave in retrospect, it is because I both survived as a teen runaway, and learned on the mean streets much of what I needed later to thrive.  It’s only due to the evidence of hundreds of articles and dozens of books that I’ve written, the nature awareness school I founded and the many people who say I and my partners have helped them, that dropping out of school, living without medical insurance or a consistent income, and following a dream at such great risk and cost can be seen as anything but ignorant and disastrous.  Thanks to a few successes at raising awareness of endangered wildlands, my Don Quixote efforts aren’t as laughable. It seems brave how I bought this property I’m on, because I somehow or other managed to struggle and make each of the 15 years worth of payments, restoring this micro ecosystem to health as it restored me myself.  And our magazine and conference could be dismissed as ignorant and foolhardy gambles, if not for the volume of enthused subscribers and the first year’s event selling out.

Watching and measuring me throughout all these tests of relative stupidity or courage, have been not only my various audiences and constituencies, the sportsmen, conservationists and scholars, readers and supporters, detractors and denigrators, but also the few locals inhabiting my isolated county.  It is they, of all people perhaps, with no investment in the outcome, who have been the most objective witnesses of all.  The majority didn’t care if I managed to make the land payments, walking the 17 miles round trip to the nearest village for supplies, or if I would keep from being thrown and killed after buying a proud-cut Arabian with no experience in cinching a saddle… but they’ve certainly been entertained at all my efforts and contortions, and at time seem to have greatly enjoyed betting on the results.

Never was this made more clear than during one of our normally small river’s periodic floods, with us unable to get out to the road except by scrambling and sloshing up miles of soggy mountainside or swimming with one hand while holding the outgoing mail aloft.  The nearby town’s wonderment regarding when and how we might brave the 20’ high rushing waters again was finally eased when a few fellow visitors to the Reserve post office noticed me carrying out a very large package, and unpacking it in the parking lot, and carrying what looked like rolled up plastic over to the gas station and its air hose.   By the time I had filled the raft’s three chambers, a half dozen of my neighbors (loosely defined, of course, since our cabin is situated miles from the next nearest domicile) had cued up to find out what I planned, fascinated by the site of a water craft in a Southwestern landscape known for its dryness.  All proved glad to help me get the inflated vestibule lashed down in the back of old Sammy Giron’s  Toyota pickup, and determined to follow us to what was now a highly anticipated launching.

Sammy drove slow as always, with me perched in the back so I could try to hold down the raft’s nose in the wrestling winds.  Every mile or two, it seemed, somebody else would jump into their truck or jeep as we passed by, then follow the growing line of vehicles that was appearing more and more like an underfunded and under-decorated parade.  Nearly 30 people pulled up behind us at the edge of the river where it snaked virilely into the our narrowing canyon, the floating tree trunks and white froth rushing by at a remarkable speed as the first of wagers were made.  A bet in rural America is not always a simple matter, though this day money was laid done over nothing more complex than whether I and my baggage would possibly stay afloat past the first sharp turn and until I was out of their sight.

It was the matter of my baggage, as it turns out, that determined the arithmetic of the bets, with the odds against me going up with each heavy item that I loaded up.  Containers of kerosene for the lamps, groceries, books and mail, judiciously wrapped in garbage bags to guard them against the paddle’s sure spray.  So heavy were they in total, that the last half had to be hoisted in after the boat had already been slid into the water, held against the shore only by the efforts of a so many folks holding its tethering ropes.  With all the available floor space thus taken, I had no choice but to sit high astride the plastic covered boxes as ropes were released and the current had its way.

Fact was, that I’d never actually boated before, only watched videos of white water rafters jauntily navigating between jagged river rocks.  What such films failed to indicate, needless to say, was the fact that an overloaded vessel is absolutely impossible to steer, with one’s paddle being of no use other than to push off of any rock eddies where you might get stuck.   “Get the camera, George,“ and “God help him” some woman was heard to say, just as the muscular current got its way.  And then was the first time I ever heard that old expression, about what a fine line there can be between courage and stupidity, or considered that it could prove an important lesson.

Kindly exclamations of concern now gave way to shouts of excitement from the shoreline crowd, as I bounced violently off of the cliff at the first bend.  Not to be outdone, one boisterous cowboy was shouting “I’ll give you eight to one” at the top of his lungs.  By this time, my new raft was spinning precariously in a circle, water spilling over its sides in what must have briefly looked a lot like a water rodeo.  Briefly, I say, with no time to consider who among them might have been right, before careening crazily out of the crowd’s site.

For a short while, I could still discern the sounds of truck horns honking back at the crossing, and the occasional distant thunder of revolvers fired in celebration into the air.  In less than ten minutes I was swept, bounced and jolted all the way to our property, jumping into the cold, neck deep water in order to slow and then finally beach my bloated craft.  Except for a couple of the packages that I’d gotten, most of the boxes remained dry, I’m happy to say, with only a few folks making money on me that fine Fall day: those willing to bet on a long shot.

Many years later, our rancher and retiree “neighbors” still have little admiration for our growing a riparian forest where there’d been none, and our successful magazine and conference are only curiosities, but they nonetheless like to cite such things as examples of a person accomplishing the unlikely.  They reason that if I can get done what I have, with the odds consistently stacked against me, then anything may be possible.  They imagine it means they they could win the New Mexico Lottery jackpot, by spending only a buck or a two on tickets at Jake’s Grocery.  That one might be able to get that special gal or guy that the heart longs for, no matter what his or her friends or parents might say.  That the too brightly lit and over managed monoculture that is the 21st Century can be kept at bay a while longer, helping ensure that rural landscapes, country skills and personal freedoms continue to exist.

In this, there’s something for all of us, it seems… learning to not let the chances for failure – nor even the possibility of looking stupid – prevent us taking the necessary risks to live out our dreams.

(From an upcoming book of mind stretching thoughts and heart opening anecdotes from a wildly rural perspective… by Jesse Wolf Hardin, possibly to be titled “The Town That Waves”)

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Snow: Catching Life In Our Mouths

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Snow: Catching Life In Our Mouths

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

We’re getting only the second storm all Winter, just as are 2/3 of our students and readers.  No matter what inconveniences it might bring, it is a noteworthy gift to this thirsty mountain land.

It began as usual, with winds shifting direction or even whirling in great circles, a darkening of the ever so bright Southwestern sun, and then a not so usual progression of small, gentle and ever so silent flakes, followed by the first scattered snare-drum rattles of hardened hail, a roar of larger hail rising to a crescendo, quickly replaced by the softest of tiny light flakes again.

It is not only the land that laps up the moisture, with wild-eyed Rhiannon rushing out in her wool fairy tale coat to catch the drops in her mouth.  She is proof that kids don’t need to be shown such behavior, nor to even read about it, to just naturally take up habits that children for thousands of years have most certainly enjoyed.

I next see Loba, supposedly tending to things outside, but clearly circling and rejoicing, her and Rhiannon both perfect examples of excitedly embracing the whitening world.  And I, too cannot resist an ancient pull, to strike out into the gathering fluff, to stack fuel close to our wood heated cabin, scan for the tracks that have so long signaled winter food and survival, rejoice in the nettles that glow bright green against the blue tinted snow.

Concerns about personal health, finances and family loss, the world’s despots and conflicts, even the ongoing destruction of nature or the shortage of water in the West, cannot and should not dampen our enthusiasm and hope, our activism and other efforts to make things better, nor the daily joy of wondrous existence… taking a moment to catch a flake or two of snow – of life – in opened skyward mouths.

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Not A Drop To Spare: Water In The West – By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Not A Drop To Spare: Water In The West

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima Lifeways & Herbal School

As you might imagine, our voluntary backwoods lifestyle is a major source of curiosity for many of the urban folk we happen to meet, and one of the first questions out of their mouths is “Do you guys have running water?”  I usually just tell them “No” and leave it at that, preferring to let them think we’re miserable grubbing cave dwellers, rather than to go to the effort of explaining and describing what I consider to be a historically correct and personally ennobling way for a fellow to live his life.  And it’s not like we don’t have “running water” either…  I mean, whenever it rains it runs off our metal roof, and then runs down the gutter to the proverbial rain barrel.  When it really storms we run around with sloshing buckets of it, madly transferring from one barrel to another.  When the house jug is empty, we run to the barrels to fill it.  And when we run out, we run down to the river in the truck to fill up, or sometimes to a favorite neighbor’s house about four miles away for a barrel or two of theirs.

Our neighbor’s deep well is undoubtedly a more steady source to rely on than the sporadic cloud cover, but it, too, is dependent on the mercy of the rain and snowfall to restore the aquifers faster than we pump it out.  In a serious drought such as our region periodically suffers, even the best of wells can one day go dry.  And in the case of a power failure or collapse of the grid, civil unrest or the eventual degradation or implosion of our vaulted modern civilization, it may no longer be possible to transport the liquid gold in gasoline powered vehicles or bring it to the surface with electric pumps.  Argument for and against the selling of county water rights to out-of-county agencies and industries, is only among the first indications of what will be increasing contention over the finite supplies of water around here.

The political wrangling over the Southwest’s diminishing watercourses has been in the making for a long time and, contrary to what you may have heard, it’s not as simple as endangered fish versus farmers.  Special interests have been impacting our rivers for a long time now, diverting water from the traditional acequia systems that the rural population depends on, while allowing the native trees decline.  Needless to say, the wider a river gets, the more shallow it will run, and the faster the rate of evaporation.  Native willows and cottonwoods contribute to water retention by binding the banks and directing the river into meandering channels.  And to the delight of the trout, they slow down evaporation by shading and cooling the water surface.

Financial interests with the big money (the “corporados,” as some call them) want us to think that the recent disputes are between the valley’s food, alfalfa and cattle producers, and a decidedly homely little minnow that never grows large enough to eat.  Tain’t so!  Truth is, on one side of the equation what we’ve got are high-tech factories with high water demands, a thirsting as well as thriving tourist industry in the northern half of the state, and herds of dollar-driven developers racing to convert old family ranches into ever more fragmented subdivisions.  On the other side are the area’s beleaguered rural residents, family gardeners and a small but healthy-flowing river that the endangered minnows merely symbolize, allies in this battle whether they know it or not.  Unfortunately, no matter what either the ecologists, ranchers or bureaucrats prefer, I’m afraid the lion’s share of this state’s vital water resources will continue to be reserved for the major high-technology industries that the legislature promotes, and find its way down the shower drains of the proliferate Albuquerque and Santa Fe hotels.

As I write this, a fine felting of snow covers the ground around our cabins, is melting from the metal roofs, dancing down our earth-toned enameled gutters, filling our modest number of barrels and overspilling into carefully cemented channels that divert the eroding streams away from our buildings’ foundations.  At such times, concerns about water conservation can seem either distant or exaggerated.  But this year, we had almost no rain from September until January, and not until now are we getting the season’s first snowfall.  The relatively few inches of fluffy white succor will only temporarily swell our river, with most of the new moisture quickly absorbed into our parched Southwestern soils.  Tellingly, little will penetrate down into its subterranean folds to replenish the coveted aquifer.  Folks without a river to draw from, have long depended on wells to tap the water essential to families and the production of food, and human residency in many parts of our county long deemed unsustainable due to the impractical depths one would have to drill in order to reach any.  And it’s only getting worse.

It might be wise not to take what we have for granted, and never take a drink… unless we first think: about where our water comes from, and how difficult to obtain it can be.  About how badly we need it, and the impracticality and even impossibility of life without it.  In the long run, it’s no different in the arid mountains of New Mexico than elsewhere: while sometimes there may seem to be enough, there’s never really a drop to spare.

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Southwest Monsoons: The Gifting of Storms and Value of Extremes – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

The Southwest Monsoons:
The Gifting of Storms and Value of Extremes

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima School & Sanctuary

Introduction: I find myself writing about the gift and lessons of our local monsoons, at the same time as villagers in Pakistan are dying by the hundreds in monsoon swollen floods.  All the more reason, to measure not only the ferocity and cost of these patterns, but the depth of their lessons, the value of their example, and the blessings of their life giving side.

The latter part of every Summer, the Southwest United States is host to what even the weather forecasters call the “Monsoons,” a series of thunderous daily showers that have more in common with the weather patterns of flood and drought ravaged Bangladesh than the remaining three quadrants of this country we belong to.  And sorry, friends, there are no monsoons in Oregon or east of Texas, no matter how strong your storms might ever be.  This particular weather dynamic often involves a seasonal speeding up and reversing of predominate wind direction, and on the North American continent always involves powerful winds blowing Northeastwards, powered by the extreme disparity between the Summer heating of land and ocean.  The resulting lower air pressure above the land acts as a siphon, drawing immense volumes of evaporated seawater high into the atmosphere and then releasing it in heavy concentrations on specific if seemingly random targets along its path.

They announce their start with the faint scent of salty ocean swells in deserts and mountains lying hundreds of Mexican desert miles from the Pacific coastline, and are characterized by dramatic dumps rather than slow and steady soakers.  Whereas the Winter monsoon patterns are dispersive and often contribute to drought, their Summer counterparts can result in flash floods in otherwise dry arroyos, and rivers swollen beyond their bed’s capacity.

It is perhaps that which I relate to most, the consistent embrace of wild extremes instead, the roaring and quaking over the calm and quiet storm, full sun followed by darkest imaginable clouds, the chance to thirst as well as to gorge and stretch.  There’s none of the uncertainty or equivocation of softer systems here, delivered on ever so gentle of winds.  And none of the kinder if monotonous storms that subtly inundate other places, settling in over the land and mind like great gray sheets.  Unlike with so many things in life from people’s characters to personal decisions, there are essentially no “gray areas” when it comes to the monsoons of the Southwest.  The boundaries between dense cloud and clarified sky are stark and easily referenced, and natural shape and fanciful form result from the delineation and contrast.  Sudden and severe fluctuations make boredom and desensitization nearly impossible, and contrasts and choices all the more obvious.  Indeed, if storms had minds, these would no doubt come with strongly formed opinions, forcefully argued in thunder’s rumble, and with pointed lightning bolts for impossible to ignore exclamation marks.  As a writer ultimately dealing with complexities and twists, I get relief from their certitude, feel gratefully affirmed by their make-no-bones-about-it honesty.  I find inspiration in their example of not hinging their act on audience response, “doing their thing” regardless of whether the human throngs either dread or adore it.  I only wish I could say as few lines as these storms, and understood as clearly.

I can intimately relate… to the monsoons’ immense energy, dedicated to what is in the end a life saving mission of bringing water to animals, people and plants that would otherwise perish without. To what feels to me like the freedom of the winds, of a great but guileless power answering to no authority other than its own true nature.  To the myth-worthy act of rushing in, accomplishing a goal and literally “making a big splash”, then slipping out before the applause like the Lone Ranger, while the gringo’s scratch their head and ask “Who was that masked man – masked writer, masked activist, masked healer?”

What I can’t relate to, and seem to have resistance to emulating, is the monsoon’s often absurdly consistent schedule, punching in like clockwork and almost always checking out on time.  Like a dinner date, these storms can usually be expected to arrive no later than 2 PM in the afternoon, and to pack up and leave that same night at a reasonable hour.  In the Northwestern sections of the country, folks often wake up to find a laid-back storm still asleep on their couch.  Not so in good ol’ New Mexico, where the Summer fronts storm in, perform a raucous rock n’ roll set for all assembled creation, and then get back on the road before before either their groupies or their detractors know they are gone.

Our monsoons begin after the July temps get up into the 80s.  And in the same way, their clouds seem to wait each day until the the afternoon’s heat is nearly unbearable before rushing in to darken, dampen and delightfully cool the Southwest’s fabled air.  It’s as if it were set up that way, so that we’d first have to really crave – and thus learn to better appreciate – the gift and relief of cooling moisture, before being subjected to what is often a discomforting deluge.

The clouds don’t roll in around here, they’re sucked in, on winds set to send fierce torrents splashing in great waves against the cliffs, bending over the tops of trees an hour before the first rain drop.  The thunder calls from a distance at first, then tumbles closer and louder, causing birds to launch and flutter, and leading a number of insects to take shelter on the protective undersides of leaves.  Magnificent white thunderheads suddenly rise up from behind the mountains like proudly unbeatable warriors, poised to overwhelm our bastion of relative tranquility and peace, a moment that arrests the prattle of the mind and bares the quaking heart.   The lightning arcs just overhead, illuminating both our inescapable mortality and the immanence of resilient life.  And with each thunderclap’s mighty roar, come the rains that pour, and pour, and pour.

Even with the lightning cause fires and the storms’ eroding of precious soils, the monsoons are still a sweep of the arm that bestows blessings.  The land is not just watered but graced.  The dusty greens of area trees and grass instantly brighten as if lit up from inside.  Normally dull pastel rocks shine like polished gemstones.  The seeps flow in serpentine patterns more beautiful than any artist’s design.  And everywhere a rejoicing!  Every person, plant and creature and even the soils themselves seem to give a glad shout!  A resounding “Yes!” to the rains that spur growth, the winds that test, exercise and thus make us strong, to the thunder that awakens and the water and spirit that sates our thirst.

As the monsoons pass over our cabins and Sanctuary, we do our best to gather every drop that pours off the metal roofs, transferring the life-giving liquid from barrel to barrel in what must look to an observer like a ballet of buckets.  We strive to make the most of these seasonal storms when they’re happening, to have our vessel emptied and waiting… and to be gladly willing to do the work of taking it all in.

As quickly as it starts, each monsoon storm stops.  The pummeling wind quickly dissipates, no doubt.  And what looks like a whole new set of stars soon pop back out.


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The Greening: Nature’s Insistence and the ReWilding Within – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sunday, May 16th, 2010


Nature’s Insistence and the ReWilding Within

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

When I was a relatively impressionable teenager, I remember reading a book by a sociologist named Reich I believe, titled “The Greening of America.”  In it, the overly optimistic author outlined a future in which the progressive values and rich diversity of the 1960’s and early 70’s would continue and grow, with wall street executives increasingly exchanging their suit ties and dress shoes for sandals and Nehru shirts, giving their energies to green ventures that would benefit humankind and the planet.  While current events continue to belie such hopes, there is indeed a visible greening, one that will one day recolor and recolonize our sterile asphalt and concrete habitats, and one that has its way in nature each Spring that thankfully comes around.  Wherever you are, far north or heated south, mountains or coast, you have joined us in witnessing the uplifting seasonal changes by now.

Since my May 1st update, the bare Cottonwood trees have nicely filled out, with leaves wh0se green has the yellowish tint of arboreal youth.  They show up nicely in the photograph above, taken on the trail approaching the forested line of the Anima Sanctuary proper.  The comparatively barren scrubland in the foreground, gives you an idea of how the entire canyon looked prior to my moving here and initiating its protection from livestock grazing and land gobbling developers.  As you’ve seen and will see in other pictures, along the river the vegetation has now spread to over a mile from this land where the greening first began.

Here we are looking downriver from the new 6th crossing, just inside the Sanctuary gate that Van, our partner in rewilding this place, has installed.  None of the 100 feet tall Cottonwoods that you see, and none of the 4 species of willow were here until I made their return possible with an ornery attitude and loving heart.

These leaves are from the narrowleaf cottonwood, one of the main two varieties found here in the canyon.

The second type we have are the Fremont cottonwoods, seen here between the 6th and 7th river crossings.

In the pic above is the 7th crossing, greened out, and hard to tell the river was raging chest deep through here a month ago.  Hard to tell, even, where the jeep-wide trail exits the water on its difficult and winding way to town.

The edible wild mustard has grown 2 feet tall since it first sprouted during the uncharacteristic late rains.

The local strain of Honeysuckle have prospered as well, and have just now begun blooming.  How sweet it is!

The roots of the wild Grape I helped plant and spread here, continue to grow all Winter long, supporting ever longer vines tipped by fresh sprigs like we see in the pic.

Thanks to all the water they got, plants like this Ragwort are blooming early.

And acting as the strongest perfume in this heady canyon embrace, is the now leafy Currant bush.  Thanks to their proliferation, walking through the mid May Sanctuary is like a trip through a pastry shop or organic fruit market.

The healing and prospering of this land and ecosystem is in part a result of our 3 decades of effort, but it was in another sense inevitable.  The spirit that drives me as its care-taker is the same that drives its ever more varied selection of flora and fauna, doing my best – like the dandelion-looking Silver Puffs – to seed the world with irrepressible wildness and endless expressions of nature’s truth and beauty.  It’s only right that we help the process along in every way that we can, but on the other hand it is the wondrous greening that will in the end prevail with or without us.

The exciting option, then, is to be a conscious and deliberate part of this continuing process, exceeding rigid customs and laws and imagined inadequacy the same as the plants break through layers of concrete in their hunger for life and light.  There will be a “Greening of America,” one day returning the continent to its garden splendor, flowering even in the middle of our cities at the start of every Summer until then, and growing its seditious and wondrous wildness within the best of each of us.


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The Humbling Unpredictability of a River’s Form and Course – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Saturday, April 24th, 2010


The Humbling Unpredictability of a River’s Form and Course

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

One thing about river morphology, is that is only in the broadest terms predictable.  We can predict what events might lead to the water curving or diverting at a certain point in the landscape, and we can bet that a stream devoid of bank-stabilizing plant life due to overgrazing or other causes, will tend to straighten out and speed up, with less saturation of the earth nearby.  What is a continual surprise is how a high water event will alter the streamflow.

Without constraining dams or concrete channels, a river does whatever it wants… and as with certain people, it can prove unwise to assume we know what will or won’t trigger a certain mood, or result in a certain reaction.  Like a willful child, just when you think you know what it will do next, the river will do something entirely unexpected and seemingly improbable or even unreasonable.  One flood may fill in a channel with silt and debris, while the next one might strip it bare or dig it deeper.   It can remain within the same bed for years and then suddenly jump to another, straightening out a lovely meander or suddenly begin weaving thanks to a fallen tree or rockslide.  One time, the river might swirl and excavate a ten feet deep swim hole that lasts even through the Summer months of hot days and low flow, a delight to dive into from the rocky cliffs… but another time, it will shift away from the rocks and leave us with nothing to leap into but a fresh pile of wet sand.  Willows may be ripped up from one stretch, as a Spring season’s snowmelt gobbles up the banks, but then a short while later reappear along the new water’s edge, springing up from a vast an insistent mat of roots that survive every fickle shift in river height and path.  I assure you, the ultra attentive resident of decades is still regularly surprised.  Even the shaman – who usually perceives and predicts the unfolding patterns of weather, human events and the intentions of an inspirited land – must nonetheless be humbled by a wild river’s unexpected course.

This year’s mountain run off has been no exception, and after two months of our having to wade out through high flow, it has now dropped enough to un-curtain a river unrecognizable in places.  Nothing illustrates this more than the area by our green Anima Sanctuary gate.  A gate, of course is meant to be a point of ingress and egress for walking visitors and our supply laden jeeps.  Ours, along with the plethora of Anima School, United Plant Savers and No Trespassing signs no longer face a drivable trail but a branch of flowing river, and what used to be our sixth crossing coming in is now no longer.  In the photo below, the gate can be seen in the center of the image, to the right of what is the new river channel.

We would have no objection to any new way that the rewilding canyon shapes up, if not for the need to be able to get a jeep in at least part of the year.  Food and mail can be transported in backpacks the 2 miles from the Sanctuary to the pavement, but the blocks of ice we need for refrigeration during the hot Summers can’t survive the hike, and over the years it has gotten less and less doable carrying full propane tanks in on a frame strapped to our backs.  With the ever denser conglomerates of thick willow forest and accumulating driftwood, options the sixth crossing have all but disappeared among the impenetrable rows of 15 feet high willows and young 100 feet high cottonwoods.

Thanks to water dropping to thigh deep, yesterday we managed to drive all the way to the cabins for the first time in 9 weeks.  Note that I said “managed,” as it was indeed a well considered and intrepidly carried out system, requiring 3 radically raised vehicles, an offroading paraplegic project foreman (“Little Brother” Ryan, pictured below), 2 strong backed adventure loving boys and a red bearded anti-roads author to alternately cheer and grumble.  Even with Samurais and our Jeep “The Beast,” we still managed to get stuck in the river over a dozen times getting in and out, each time sucked down by wet silt reminiscent of the explorer-gobbling quicksand seen in old B movies.

Our chosen path stays out of the floodplain for longer stretches, and will result in a larger portion of the Sanctuary proper being able to re-grow where the old track used to be, but the crossings themselves are still many weeks away from being solid enough to drive over without a 50% chance of bogging.  The plan for now is to try and ride in as far as the well discussed sixth, and then carry everything the remaining few hundred yards up over the precipitous “Winter Trail.”  The next test will come tonight, as I shuttle Resolute in for a week stay, no doubt hooting and hollering as we make our brave splash.

P.S.:  I’d like to take this time to welcome our many new Foundations in Western Herbalism and Journey Begins correspondence students.  Your responses since their recent release have been very gratifying for all of us here, and we hope the will continue to serve you well.  You can expect a series of pieces on various aspects of healing here, as well as increased coverage of our homesteading and wildcrafting activities.

And a note to everyone: You will notice yet more updates to the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference website, with a few more additions coming to the Anima site as well.  The site links to the course, retreat and events applications will be fixed, but until then please continue emailing us with requests for the right form for whatever it is that you are applying for.

Forever wild,

-JWH and Family