Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Last winter, I bought two pallets of flat stone from a stone yard and constructed some paths and terraces on the west facing, sloping side of my parents' house. its a twelve foot wide sideyard that slopes at about 20 degrees to a 3 foot high cement retaining wall on the property line. There is also a plastic white picket fence going along the property line, so I constructed the terrace wall about a foot from the retaining wall, about 1 ft strong. I used old railroad ties and logs stacked laterally on top of each other. The clay soil caused somewhat of a water logging, as there is no where for the water to drain. It worked well for the past year. I planted eggplant, tomatoes, blackberries, mint. The mint and blackberries are faring well through the winter. I also built another tier above this terrace a foot from the house, using the flat stone upright, buttressed against each other and sunk into the ground below. I have had many design revelations since returning after being gone seven months. My mom took some pictures for me before starting work so you can see the work I did last year. I need to search for pics from before last year's work. I removed the white picket fence to give room to dig a new drainage trench for a 50 foot long, dry stacked retaining wall that will bring the soil level up 2 feet strong from the top of the new 6 inch deep drainage trench. I will be removing the flat stone terrace and bring the entire sideyard up to one level. The area will be 10 feet deep by 50 feet long. After the first level is built, I will build steps coming down from the porch.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bicycle Touring/ Migration

I recently bought a Surly Big Dummy longtail cargo bike, as I was uninterested in the monetary trappings of the automobile as a mode of transportation. For the past four years, I have traversed my native Dallas terrain on a red Bianchi fixed gear. My brother passed it down to me after being pummeled by a sedan during a festival while living in Austin. Thankfully he wasn't injured, and escaped with one mangled wheel. He also let me use his pannier bags to attach to my rack, a big help over the summer when I would spend several days out of my parents' house. When he moved out of our house into an apartment with his fiance, taking the bags with him, I was left with my purple backpack, a sweaty and uncomfortable alternative for long distance riding. I wanted to ride to my friend, David's house in Houston, and use bikes as my main ride when settling down at our Hempstead community. My big brother, Alec, told me about the Big Dummy during one of our recent rides around White Rock Lake. I was intrigued, as this model would be perfect for my migration to Houston, indeed 200 lbs of smooth handling for 200 miles all the way, although climbing hills wrecked my groins one day, and I chose to veg out at a motel in Mexia.
The other three days and two nights I camped in out of sight places, ate at local cafes, took sponge baths, conversed with locals flabbergasted, yet interested in my tour, hitched a ride with an ex military police officer, befriended a Waxahachie coffee shop proprietor, shared stories with a sweet Latino taco truck lady who sympathetically made me eat free tacos, and realized I had never been exposed to so much human compassion in such a condensed period. I was told I would be flattened by redneck truck drivers, yet soon discovered "they" were incredibly helpful, outgoing, humorous, hospitable and greatly concerned, just like my beloved friends and family who warned me of said former dangers. Not once was I run off the road, not even close. Every vehicle on the road to Houston passed in the left lane, or made their best effort to consider my vulnerable position.
30 miles North of my destination, I found myself semi lost on some non-navigable rocky roads, in the pouring rain. My front tire went flat. I was posted up in front of a ranch, the cows huddled near the fence line, wide eyed and following my every move. I unpacked my pump and the valve head was missing, at which point I became frustrated and hopeless, as I was now immobile. I broke down crying, cursing my situation, caught in an afternoon downpour. I hurled my spent tube into a forest in anger.
"I was so close," I told myself, looking for some thing to blame. Several cars passed within a ten minute period, a few offering help. With the fourth passerby, I asked the scraggly bearded man for an air pump. He told me he'd be right back with a compressor, but upon return, his connection was incompatible with my Presta valve. We worked together as I forced the remains of the pump head onto the valve while he pumped with furor. I was grateful for his genuine concern, and his uplifting, sprightly demeanor. We got the tire to about 40-50 psi, 60 being maximum, and I was on my way. About half a mile down, the tire went flat again. I stopped in front of a farm where a lady was working around the property. I was hesitant to ask for help, so I called David and asked for a ride to his house in Cypress. Just as I was about to get off the phone, a white haired, clean cut farmer pulled into the driveway of the farm behind me, where the lady was working. He offered his help, and I explained my situation,
"Let's see what we can do. Come up to the house." Once again was I ever grateful. He had an air compressor with a set of different valves, and he worked with diligence to find a solution. His wife brought ice water,
"He's a real handyman. He'll make anything work." After many tries with different parts, we finally found a tight fitting valve. He gave it to me. "Now you can air up your tires wherever there's a compressor." After many thanks, we hoisted the bike into his truck bed, and he took me to the nearest paved road, as he was well aware of the shitty farm roads. "These roads are a hassle for truck tires!" We parted ways and I was on the road again, until another few miles--yet again, flat. I called David one last time, and he agreed to pick me up. The whole family was in the rickety pickup as I jumped up with relief. I know the sound of that truck's shocks from a mile away. Here I am, the night before Kamia's 9th birthday party, ready to get back to our property in Hempstead and start cleaning, building, and living again. I depart on Wednesday. We are gearing up for our trip to Pine Ridge reservation, trying to confirm our needed funding for the trip. If you want to join us by donating your time or money, you can read more about our pallet house project at Pine Ridge here. More later!

Monday, February 7, 2011

In 2008, I recall walking through the halls of Pearce High School, feeling hopeless because I was presented with a reality that demanded every waking moment of my time and energy. No room for my needs or interests in the state's version of what I should be doing with my life. This was not a new feeling to me, for I had blindly walked society's path for 15 years. I was beginning to feel frustrated because I needed the freedom to decide how, where, and why I spend my dear time on this Earth. My reasons for being in school were blurry, at best. Such an uncertain future left many students jaded and hopeless. Before quitting school in January of 10th grade, I spent many school days in a lulled state produced by a host of psychoactives, because I was wasting my time, uninterested in the work in front of me.
I am sure there are countless students who share my sentiments regarding school. Perhaps you wonder about ways out? Or you are worried about filling the void of free time if you choose to quit? The alternative I chose is home schooling, or unschooling, which I adopted as my educational philosophy. Unschooling is the natural way of learning. The child directs his own life, and the parents simply facilitate resources to enable the child to discover his true passion. My parents were apprehensive about an unstructured education, so at first there were some required readings and activities--math, history, journal writing-- after a while I even tired of this because, grades, my former sole motivation for work was gone. Besides, I was uninterested in the subjects. I began researching gardening, as I remember enjoying helping my mother work in the garden as a child. I yearned for a deeper relationship with nature. This relationship involves immersion observation of natural patterns, something I would learn the next year when I enrolled in a Permaculture Design Certification course in Fort Worth. This class introduced me to many facets of sustainable culture: natural building, gardening, farming, rainwater harvesting, cooking, alternative energy, intentional community, etc. This wisdom has been feeding my passion for the past few years since quitting school. In October of 2009 I participated in a work-trade house building workshop, which taught the students how to build with a time tested mixture of clay, sand, and straw called cob (link leads to the teacher's website). At this workshop I met David Reed, veteran carpenter of 25 years, who recently shifted his perspective from conventional to natural building. David told me about some property on which he hoped to build his family's future home in Hempstead, Texas. He welcomed anyone with a vision of living on a sustainable off-grid community. I was very intrigued by this idea, as I was already hoping to acquire a small plot to build a house and garden. The decisions were far from set in stone, so the opportunity sat in the back of my mind for a number of months. During this time my brother and his girlfriend invited me on their travels in Southeast Asia, but that is for another post (as if i haven't rambled enough). David and I kept in touch over facebook over the winter, spring, and summer. In August, he announced a cob workshop in Hempstead, October of 2010, one year after last year's workshop. I was stoked to get out there and start building. I met David at his house in deathly hot Houston in September. We spent almost a week at his wife and kids' house while he worked on his rickety, yet trusty GMC truck. We departed for Hempstead on September 13; I remember that day vividly. It was slightly rainy when we arrived at the beautiful pine forest lot. We were surrounded by stillness and raw land that looked untouched and ancient, besides the grid of dirt roads that permeated the failed 1970's housing development (the owner was jailed for embezzlement). Lucky for us, there is no water, no power, and way cheap property taxes, perfect for the makings of an off grid community. We began by setting up our tents that would be our living situations until further housing situations were arranged. Then, we cleared out some paths to the main house site and felled a few skinny pines and one sizeable oak. This made just enough space for the 26' diameter house (see footprint in photo). I'll write some more later.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Polyculture Updates

I cut down the tomato plants today and chopped them up, then laid them in place on the ground. I took down the stone wall in the garden bed, because I noticed that the tomatoes, sunflowers, holy basil, morning glories, and cucumber plants all had trouble growing. they turned yellow and white and did not seem healthy or vigorously growing. It could be because of the lime leaching into the soil. When I took the stones out, I noticed that the lettuce roots were holding onto the rocks. They grew much better than the plants that yellowed, but were closer to the stones (I think they are limestone, I gathered them from the creek and they have been disintegrating since I built the wall). I filled in the path with finished, bagged compost from Calloway's trash, then covered with straw and hay. I will plant things here, and then put flat stones around the area to step on.