Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Little Miracles

by Lorna Kerin Beall

Over the years I’ve heard many Christmas stories regarding children that touched my heart. One was from my friend Jeanette. She told me about a special Lutheran Tenebrae (Candlelight) Service that she attended with her daughter’s family. Our Lutheran churches can be a bit more formal with our liturgy; beautiful and worshipful though it is. The sanctuary was darkened as the first awe-filled parishioner’s candle was lit. He began to pass the glowing light to the next person in the hushed silence. But no one was filled with more wonder than Jeanette’s toddler grandson! He suddenly burst out singing a joyful “Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus, Happy Birthday to you.” Jeanette didn’t know whether to hush him or hug him. Afterwards, she wished she’d joined him. And do you know what? I wish I’d been there too.

Another story that I love was told to me by my dear friend, Ruth Amos, who went to be with her loving Savior this past year. Ruth was kind of like me, always wanting her Christmas decorations to be a bit better. (I’m famous for having a “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.”) This particular year, she felt she succeeded. She had purchased a “Precious Moment’s Manger Scene” in all its glory. She took special pains as she arranged each lovely piece in what she considered its ideal place, down to the last sweet little lamb.

Even though things were hectic as she prepared for the Christmas festivities, she couldn’t resist going back every so often for a sneak peek. But one time she was aghast! Not one precious piece was left in its perfect place. And the culprit was nearby. It was her five year old Grandson.

“Brandon!” she cried. “You messed up my manger scene.”

“No, Granny,” he said, teary-eyed. “I fixed it.”

As Ruth looked closer, she saw that indeed he had. Each cow, sheep, shepherd, king or angel was in a circle looking at, and adoring, the One in the middle: the Baby Jesus. She grabbed little Brandon up in a tender hug. “It’s perfect, sweetheart. Just perfect.” And it was.

This Christmas time may we join these sweet children in saying, singing and showing the tiny Christ child that we wish Him a joyous “Happy Birthday!”

Little Things 

Little things make me happy. 
Little things you know. 
Little things make me happy
Set my life aglow.

Little Baby Jesus 
Come down from above. 
Live Baby Jesus
Divine Act of love. 

A little smile on his face when I'm near
A little love in his heart is so clear. 

Little things make me happy. 
Little things you know. 
Little things make me happy
Set my life aglow.

(a song Jana wrote when she was little.) 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Our Desert Community Plants the Seeds for My New Doc

Since Dan and I started blogging about our journey to a more sustainable lifestyle we have had the opportunity to come in contact with so many inspiring community groups cultivating an oasis of sustainability here in Tucson.

Emma demonstrates how to shore up a catchment basin.

Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA) is reviving their cultural traditions by having tribal elders mentor youth on their native foods. Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace re-built the Mission Garden, a living museum, to demonstrate how to grow crops from pre-Columbian to those that Father Kino established in that location.  Native Seeds/SEARCH  maintains community food traditions by preserving diverse and heritage seeds. Manzo ElementaryChangemaker High and City High tend to the next generation of desert gardeners. Through their community garden programs, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona doesn’t just feed the hungry, but teaches them to grow food for themselves. Iskashitaa Refugee Network assists refugees in becoming self-sufficient (and reduces food waste) by harvesting fruit that would otherwise go unpicked. Dunbar Springs neighborhood worked to make their street an example of an edible, urban forest irrigated by rainwater. Watershed Management Group is building a community that works together to restore Tucson’s aquifer by implementing rainwater harvesting techniques and desert landscaping in people's yards, gardens, streets and businesses. These groups (among others) are gleaning from Tucson’s rich cultural history ways to live in harmony with the desert. This is truly an exciting time to be a part of this vibrant community!

Shooting the first segment with Brad Lancaster at Dunbar Springs
I decided to make a documentary about the accomplishments of these communities with the hope that it would inspire others. So I approached activist/ documentarian Evan Grae Davis with the idea. Evan had just read Edible Baja Arizona’s article about Tucson being the first US city to be designated a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy for the same advancements. He was excited to tell our story!

Our last shoot was for the rainwater harvesting segment featuring Watershed Management Group. Dan and I have planted our roots into the WMG community. In addition to being members of their co-op, Dan recently got the good news that he was accepted into their docent training program!  We love being a part of a community that is working to restore our groundwater and get our rivers flowing again.

Here we are shooting in Jason and Connie Carder's yard. (See Jason working alongside of Emma in the pic above.) They had 3 roadside catchment basins (wow!) and berms installed to control the runoff after their house had been flooded during a recent storm.

Happy owner Connie Carder
Co-op members Grant and Carrie Stratton share why they volunteer
Where's Waldo...uh...Dan? 
Emma helps a co-op volunteer arrange rocks 
Two hard workers: workshop instructor Emma Stahl-Wert and my baby Dan
A little patch of purslane ignited a conversation about edible weeds. Later in the day, Dan heard someone call out, "Don't step on the purslane!" A woman after my own heart! It's so great to work alongside kindred spirits who feel as passionate as we do about getting our rivers flowing again and protecting purslane!

Friday, June 3, 2016

How Does Our Garden Grow?

One of the things we are working on is not wasting food. But inevitably we would discover moldy, slimy vegetables at the bottom of our curiously named "vegetable crisper." We figured at least we could compost those uneaten vegetables so they wouldn't go completely to waste.  Little did I know that the stinky compost pile would lead to ME actually gardening! 

HISTORY OF THE GARDEN: When my ex and I first moved into this house in 1996, we discovered a fenced in garden area and the remains of an elaborate, antiquated watering system. As I examined the garden remains, I had flashbacks of working up a sweat picking my Nana’s green beans on her little farm during that long, humid Missouri summer. Moments like that inspired me to dub the state “misery.” Well, that and all the ticks and chiggers. Nana would coax us on with, “We’ll get to eat all the yummy food we pick!”  But I detested the bland green beans that filled her freezer. Kazaam! An eighty-year old man appeared in the garden! He showed us how to start a garden in the plot he had built
back in the 60s. He picked up a hoe and started removing weeds. He even helped us lay down the manure. We were pretty much obliged to garden at that point. That season we grew more romaine lettuce than we could eat. My strict vegan sister, strongly encouraged us to grow her some organic vegetables. She came over one time and harvested ONE head. The carrots were pretty pathetic and more work than they were worth.

There were some good times. I remember digging a hole about the size of a mop bucket and planting pieces of an old potato that had grown roots. I watered my little garden hole faithfully and eventually potato plants surfaced. The little curly-haired neighbor girl, who used to drive her pink Barbie electric car around the block, helped me dig up the tiny potatoes. It was like a treasure hunt! We savored our potato lunch.  That little girl is now a college graduate. I ran into her a few months ago. She asked if I still had a garden. She remembered it fondly.

artifacts of gardens past 
I’m afraid I let down that curly haired moppet, my Nana, my previously vegan sis, and our fairy gardener. Those were the only vegetables me and my ex ever grew in the garden.  Mostly we grew weeds. When my son was turning seven he helped me weed the garden. We “planted” fossilized rocks, petrified wood, and collectible rocks to be dug up at his paleontology birthday party. Dan and I still unearth the occasional polished rock, toy shovel, action hero or truck. Just the other day, Dan dug up the habitat that a pet crab was buried in.

A big motivation for starting our garden was to see if anything could grow in our desert soil (research for Dan's Sonoran Gardener app.) We began with heat resilient heritage plants. You might remember the blog post where I bemoaned weeding the garden just so Dan could replant weeds in it. While the purslane flourished in the alleyway behind our house, the edible weeds didn’t survive the move. 

Next, Dan selected some heritage and seasonal seeds from the seed library.

He planted Sonoran winter wheat and carrots, radishes, kale, chard, turnips, and cilantro. Remember the fragrant compost pile? He didn't use any of it. (It wasn't ready....)He covered it with an organic mulch of dried grass (weeds!) and the leaves that fell from the huge eucalyptus trees overhead. I was sure that the weeds would grow more weeds. We watered it with a sprinkler three days a week.

What did we learn from our Test Garden?

We learned we could actually grow food in that soil. Yeah!

We (correction... I) learned to not to irrigate during the day, or it will evaporate. (Yes, smarty pants knew.)

We learned to snip the leaves off of our cilantro and leave the stems to grow more leaves.

We learned that radish greens are delicious sautéed with sliced radishes.

We learned we liked steamed chard from our garden better than store-bought spinach.

We learned that only Dan will eat the kale.

We learned that the mulch didn't regrow grass and that the eucalyptus leaves and bark weren't as good as the grass mulch. (Darn it...those trees shed so much every Fall!)

I learned that you can keep the weeds up by pulling a few every morning. And that I feel satisfaction by staying on top of them.

I learned that I should probably stretch my creaky old bones before weeding.

I learned to bring out a step stool to sit on rather than straining my back.

We learned that gardens attract lizards, (a HUGE horny toad!) and birds - even quail.

We learned why our little patch of Sonoran wheat kept shrinking...

We learned that those stubborn carrots need more water or ya don't get nothin'.

We learned the turnips were the slowest to grow. Gotta keep watering 'em.

We learned that the cilantro turns into coriander seeds - plenty of seeds to replant or grind into a handful of spice.

I learned that I actually like gardening. It was an excuse to get outside, sink my hands in the soil, and enjoy the morning breeze as lizards skitter about and birds chirp in the palo verde tree.

And sometimes I still feel the presence of my fairy gardener.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Hopis: Protectors of Earth and Water

A Hopi maiden, honored with the task of collecting water for their sacred ceremony, steps down the steep, rocky trail to the ancient spring.  As she climbs, she recalls the sacred covenant that her people made with Maasaw, the caretaker of the earth. Maasaw entrusted the tribe with the 3 POINTS needed to build a strong society.

  • An ear of corn: representing food for the body and soul.
  • A gourd of water: the gourd being a reminder that the water (from a confined aquifer) is limited so it must be preserved.
  • The planting stick: the simple technology necessary to grow things in the desert.
They made a covenant to be humble farmers, respectful of the land and the water. The woman bends down to scoop up some water with a gourd. But the water level has gone down so far that she can barely reach it. This is one of a few springs still flowing on the Hopi nation.  

The Hopi tribe is a sovereign nation located in northeastern Arizona. The reservation occupies part of Coconino and Navajo counties, encompassing more than 1.5 million acres. It is made up of 12 villages situated on three mesas. Their pueblo-style villages were settled in 900 AD. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited human settlements in the Americas and the people still maintain their culture. These resourceful people developed a method of dry land farming that sustained them as long as they kept their covenant to protect the water.

In the 1960s, the American government strong-armed the Hopi and Navajo into signing an agreement with the world’s largest coal company.  In 1970, Peabody Energy started strip mining their mesas destroying hundreds of archaeological sites.  From 1970 – 2005 alone over 45 billion gallons of pristine drinking water was pumped out of their confined desert aquifer to transport slurry (ground coal mixed with water) through pipes to a power generator in Nevada.  That was enough water to last the whole tribe of 10,000 for 300 years.

The tribe has paid dearly for breaking the covenant to protect the earth and water. Close to 400 million gallons of pristine drinking water is pumped annually for the Kayenta Mine. Peabody pays them 3/10 of a cent per gallon. Most of the rivers and streams that sustained the tribe since ancient times have dried up or have been polluted by runoff from the mine.

The coal is used to run the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona. The Western United States' largest generating system was built to power the pumps that push Colorado River water over 300 miles UPHILL to Phoenix and Tucson as part of the Central Arizona Project. Yes, that’s how we get our CAP water.

Because of the name, people think that it is owned by the Navajo people. It’s not. The tribes don’t get any of the water or power. Many people live in poverty with no running water or electricity. They drive 20 miles for drinking water. The U.S. government pronounced their sacred land a national sacrifice area in order to build up the southwest.
On top of that, the tribes were cheated out of the fair market value of the land and water. The Hopi receive only two million dollars a year, while Peabody generates $5.6 billion. To put this in perspective, their CEO alone makes three million dollars a year.  

Before their land was savaged by the mines, these tribes were self-sufficient farmers and shepherds. They are now forced to rely on the mines for roughly 50 percent of their jobs. The remainder are unemployed.

Vernon Masayesva, the founder of Black Mesa Trust, is fighting to shut down the coal powered generator permanently and replace it with solar energy.  This fight isn’t just for the Hopi and Navajo people. It is for all of us. The amount of pollution this plant is making is appalling. EPA spokesman Rusty Harris-Bishop confirmed that the Navajo Generating Station is one of the largest sources of nitrogen oxide emissions in the country.  It is an UPHILL battle, since many tribe members won’t hear of shutting down the mines, since family members still work there.

 An honored storyteller, Vernon evokes the revered teachings of the ancients on the 3 POINTS needed to build a strong society: an ear of corn, a gourd of water and the planting stick. He encourages the tribe to renew their covenant with Maasaw to be protectors of the land and the water. Black Mesa Trust is currently conducting workshops to teach their teens how to harvest the rain water and return to the ancient methods of dry desert farming. The Hopi Raincatchers are using traditional and modern knowledge to build ravines with boulders to restore their watersheds. 

 “Traditions, history about who we are, and where we came from, and what our responsibility is to the world and to peoples all over the world. That is one of our main moral obligations,” Vernon explains. “To be protectors of the land, to be good stewards of the land.  Which is why this mining company is such an intrusion on our way of life. It’s a violation of our beliefs.”

We have so much to learn about being sustainable in our desert from the Hopi way of life. They share important lessons about protecting and being good stewards of the earth.  The people of Tucson’s Mission Garden are incorporating similar dry land farming techniques and learning how to grow sturdy heritage plants from the Tohono O’odham.

Even after being exploited, the Hopi feel a great responsibility to share what they have learned with the rest of the world. They are leading the Water Movement.

It’s time Tucson joined that movement. Recently, poisonous tailings from abandoned mines seeped into the streams that feed the Colorado River. The water in the reservoirs is evaporating at record rates. As temperatures continue to rise and more states experience droughts, there will be even more competition for that water.  

As we wake up to the reality that we don’t have an unlimited supply of water, there is much we can learn from the devastating impact of coal mining on the Hopi and Navajo lands. Currently, a foreign mining company has plans to build a mine on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. They will take advantage of an antiquated 1880s law and pay the tribe $5 an acre. The proposed Rosemont mine will destroy the desert habitat where the people gather their food, and contaminate their streams and rivers.  It will also deplete 20% of Tucson’s ground water.

Our representatives are pushing for these mines because they create jobs. But those jobs are temporary.  Ask the 400 workers who just lost their jobs at the mine near Green Valley or the Peabody workers whose wages will be decreased to cut back costs as the company reorganizes. Peabody just filed for Chapter 11 protection and is trying to avoid complying with the new pollution controls. But that won’t stop the company from pursuing more profit by expanding their operations on the Hopi reservation. (The mining company wants to expand, increasing coal production to 5.7 million tons a year and increase the water use by 33%.) It just allows the company to place the burden of cleaning up their mines on American taxpayers.

It’s time to join the movement to preserve our precious water by implementing sustainable desert farming practices and supporting a transition from fossil fuel energy to solar power. Let’s unite with our indigenous brothers and sisters and proclaim our Declaration of Water.

Declaration of Water

As children of water,
we raise our voices in solidarity to speak for all waters.
Water, the breath of all life, water the sustainer of all life,
water the voice of our ancestors, water pristine
and powerful.
Today we join hands, determined to honor,
trust and follow the ancient wisdom of our ancestors
whose teachings and messages continue to
live through us.
The message is clear: Honor and respect water
as a sacred and life-giving gift from the Creator of Life.
Water, the first living spirit on Earth.
All living beings come from water,
all is sustained by water,
all will return to water to begin life anew.
We are of water, and the water is of us.
When water is threatened, all living things are
What we do to water, we do to ourselves.

Adopted at the Hopi Hisot Navoti Gathering
October 23, 2003 Second Mesa, Arizona

To learn how you can help contact Black Mesa Trust.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Growing Up at the "Lucky U Ranch" Trailer Court

Chubby eleven-year-old Junior (Trevor Robins) awkwardly lowers himself onto the tracks. The hollow whistle of a train dissolves into the heckling of cruel classmates - a fresh memory of being bullied at school. He puts his ear to the rail listening for the far off roar of a train. Trains hold a special wonder for Junior as he dreams of escaping to follow in the footsteps of his father. Startled awake by an old-timey locomotive in his dream, he picks up his discarded school books and wistfully tramps home through the harsh desert to the end of the trail: the Lucky U Ranch trailer court. 

Junior has plenty of time to daydream left alone in their trailer while his mother works long hours to support them. His longing for a father is always just under the surface. It comes out in fantasies where he plays a film noir private eye who rescues a little girl. The police detective raves, “Once again you saved the day. Your father would be proud.” His mystified mother (Harris Kendall) is doing the best she can. She can see how much he needs a father. She allows him his fantasies to protect him from the painful truth. But his expansive fantasy life is only making matters worse. When he misses the ball while daydreaming out in left field, he is ridiculed by his classmates.

Then, one day, a shiny Air-stream backs in next to their dilapidated trailer. A vision in pigtails chases her dog into his yard. Melissa (Donovan Droege) asks him to teach her to play jacks, and in exchange she gives him much needed baseball lessons. I love the way this confident pre-teen girl doesn’t shy away from sharing her expertise while coaching. She enjoys his sense of humor and really gets him. There are people who appear in your life just when you need them to teach you a pivotal lesson, and Melissa is one of those angels. Despite dealing with an alcoholic parents that fight all the time, she saves Junior. Empowered by their friendship, Junior gains the confidence and courage he needs to face reality and to handle a life altering event.  

The running theme is one that many of us can relate to – longing for the love and approval of an absentee parent. It brought back my own fantasies of running away to find my birth father or of my father just showing up and being so proud of me that he was sorry he ever left. It takes real courage to accept them for who they are, faults and all.

This touching coming of age story draws from writer/producer Ginia Desmond’s years at the Lucky U Ranch trailer court. Like the character of Melissa, she was stuck in a trailer with alcoholic parents who fought. And baseball was one of the joys of her young life.

Guided by director Steve Anderson, the bond between the two child actors is so natural. Brian Shanley’s beautiful cinematography creates a melancholy atmosphere using our stunning desert to good effect. Tucson’s small town feel and production designer Adam Sydney’s attention to detail give "Lucky U Ranch" an authentic, nostalgic fifties vive.

This Tucson-based indie does Arizona proud.

Movie blessings! 
Jana Segal-Stormont

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Footprints in the Dirt

photo by Jamie L. Manser/
Prehistoric footprints of ancient people including a child and a domesticated canine were recently uncovered in an irrigated field excavated in Tucson, Arizona. Just as incredible are the remains of their irrigation system (dating back 2500-3000 years) with two field cells and parallel channels to redirect water from the Rillito River.

4000 years ago, the first people settled in Tucson for the abundant river water that flowed year round. The Hokokam captured rainwater with rock dams. The Tohono O'odham crafted earthen dams and brush weirs to divert water from washes for crops. They lived in harmony with the desert, gathering its fruits in the proper seasons. They were experts on desert farming, having developed sophisticated techniques to grow sturdy native plants like the three sisters: beans, maize, and squash. Happily, the Tohono O’odham have brought back those traditional techniques by growing heritage crops at the San Xavier coop and by assisting with The Mission Garden at the base of “A” mountain. There is much we can learn from them about sustainability and how things grow in the desert dirt.

The Mission Garden
In my last blog on Sustainable Living Tucson, I commented on how some people see only dirt when they look at our desert, but it is actually brimming with life.  That got me musing about it.  Imagine my delight in watching my friend Elaine Romero’s play, “Dirt!”  Her play beautifully elaborated on that theme by including Tucson’s first settlers and the lost barrio. Her lyrical descriptions conjured up the following images for me.

After the Native Americans, came the Mexicans who built Tucson. Like the mesquite, their roots were deeply embedded in the dirt. Their homes and neighborhoods were built out of dirt and water. Their roads or calle were formed by paths worn in the dirt for generations - paths that connected family and friends in their tight knit barrio community. But their footprints have long been covered over with cement in the name of progress.  Out of the cement grew a big, ugly, lonely concrete monument to both urban renewal and their once vibrant community – the Tucson Convention Center. Dry fountains lined with misplaced boulders are sad reminders of our dry river beds (another causality of progress.) Nothing could grow out of the layers of concrete.

Until… Borderlands Theater reclaimed the dirt under that cement with “Barrio Stories.” The descendants of the neighborhood returned to La Calle to retrace the steps of their displaced ancestors.
Playwright Elaine Romero and Jana 
The company was looking for a way to get Tucson’s Mexican-Americans to return to the theater. They came up with the idea of doing a play that the whole community could get involved in.  Inspired by the book, “La Calle: Spatial Conflicts and Urban Renewal in a Southwest City,” by Lydia Otero, they gathered oral histories of the people who had memories of Barrio Viejo before the devastating demolition. Playwrights Virginia Grise, Martin Zimmerman and Elaine Romero were tasked with adapting it into theatrical pieces.

When Borderlands producing director Mark David Pinate visited the Tucson Convention Center, he knew he could put his theater education into practice by staging the plays throughout the grounds as a site specific work.  Dispersed around that area were vignettes of life in the old barrio.  Appropriately placed by the dried up, cement fountain was Elaine Romero’s short play, “Dirt”.

If you missed the Borderland Theater’s “Barrio Stories,” it is my honor to share this patch of “Dirt” with you.

DIRT: First, there was me, Dirt, the dirt and the cactus, and the geckos, and the Saguaro, and the locals didn’t bother naming their paths, their streets. Pottery shards at the foot of “A” Mountain, Sentinel Peak, and the Tumamoc Hill date back 4,000 years before any of this mierda started. Before the cement came and laid itself on top of me and tried to make me inconsequential.

First, we looked like nothing fancy. Some adobe bricks. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Buildings made from the earth, from the ground. And it included everybody. The Hohokam, the Tohono O’odham, and the Mexican Period.

 I remember the day when the demolition crews came. They took something and they turned it into nothing. Some people say it looked like the surface of the moon, or an atomic bomb had come and hit downtown Tucson. And even when they finished, the people didn’t want to walk there. The people didn’t want to go there. The people felt a big hurt, a big hole, in their hearts. Bigger than anyone ever imagined. And sometimes when you’re the dirt, you have the privilege of capturing the people’s tears in your earth. I’ve had that privilege here in Tucson.

Throughout our history people have left footprints in the dirt. There is much they can teach us about living in harmony with the earth and water. We can learn from our city's mistakes on urban renewal and bad water management - and not repeat them

“Barrio Stories” was more than oral histories or bearing witness to a close knit community torn apart. This was a joyous celebration of a community kicking up some dust and reclaiming the ground that was Barrio La Calle.  

For more information on rainwater harvesting check out:

Monday, March 7, 2016

Spilt Tomatoes!

I was in the flow - waxing poetic about the lushness of our Arizona landscape for my new blog Sustainable Living Tucson. 9 o’clock! And we hadn’t eaten. I peeked into Jeremy’s room. My apathetic teenager was finally at his homework. It was up to me to procure dinner. I rushed out of the house, leaving a yapping dog in my wake. Ideas whirled in my head as I strolled to the store. When I arrived, I asked the cashier if she had a pencil.  I quickly jotted down my (no doubt brilliant) musings on a slip of receipt paper, then went about my shopping. I scooped several varieties of bulk trail mix into plastic bags. (Note to self: don’t shop when hungry.) Then I grabbed a bag of tomatoes for our spaghetti sauce that night.

As I unloaded my groceries on the conveyor belt, I realized – Doh!  In the midst of writing a blog on sustainability, I had forgotten my reusable bags. Again! I already had all those plastic bags of tomatoes and trail mix. I would just carry them without a grocery bag. I announced to the bemused sales clerk, “This will be a guilt free walk home.” Then, just as I finished crossing the street, I felt something bounce off my toe. I looked down and saw tomatoes rolling to the curb. I motioned, “One moment” to a car at the corner and scrambled to pick them up.

For the rest of the walk home, I thought about the ten (count ‘em ten) plastic bags I was carrying. I made a mental note to look up where all that plastic came from. I racked my brain, trying to concoct a trick to help me remember the reusable grocery bags – as if going to the grocery store wasn’t reminder enough.
Grocery store – grocery bag, grocery store – grocery bag. Not that complicated. Sustainable thoughts flashed through my mind: turn the water off while brushing teeth, switch off the light (in my dad’s voice…), the cereal box goes into the recycling bin, onion peels in the compost bag, feed The Pooh... The Pooh! That’s it! Our dog! She always followed us to the door yipping to go with. Yip! Yip! Yip! Perhaps I could imagine her as a yipping grocery bag!

Boy, do I need something to eat.   

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Starting Where We Live

We plan to take out the rocks and use greywater to water our backyard. 

Glancing at the sweet Tree of Life Valentine card Dan gave me, brings to mind how we have grown together in the past two years. The Tree of Life represents our connection to each other, our community, and the planet.

After giving up on internet dating, I found Dan on Facebook. There were pictures of him mentoring teens in robotics, gazing fondly at his 3D printer, and painting the walls at CoLab workspace. I was impressed by how he was trying to do good in the world, so I asked him for a tour of CoLab. He rushed by me sweating profusely from riding his bike. After showing off CoLab, he offered to give me a tour of “his downtown” – Maker House and Xerocraft. We settled in the courthouse courtyard and talked for 6 hours. I told him about my creative boys, my screenwriting, supporting local filmmakers by organizing film events, and writing reviews of meaningful films. He told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t interested in dating. He came to Tucson so he could live inexpensively while working on his many humanitarian projects. The one that was dearest to his heart was “The Pineapple Project” a computer program that would allow subsistence farmers worldwide to use their cell phones to find out what was best to plant on their land.  

That's Gary Nabhan there. We're big fans. 

When we got together a few days later (yeah!), we struggled with finding time for us and all his projects. We are still working on finding the right balance. Dan soon discovered that he needed to apply his program closer to home, so “Sonoran Gardener” was born. Combining my interest in film and his in sustainability, we have gone to just about every sustainability or environmental movie event in Tucson! I even found ways to discuss environmental issues in my movie reviews at Reel Inspiration

The Poo looking guilty. 

While I have always recycled and have never driven, I am grateful to Dan for introducing me to sustainable living. It has added so much to the quality of our life together. In addition to not owning a car, Dan makes his own bread (lucky for me and the boys) and we are experimenting with planting heritage foods and edible weeds. (That’s right! Weeds!) The heritage Sonoran winter wheat is growing nicely, but the only one who has eaten any of it is “The Poo,” Dan’s dog. We did enjoy some purslane that was growing behind the neighbor’s fence. (I found a yummy Mexican recipe for a green sauce made of tomatillos, garlic, onions and serrano chiles!) We even tried planting purslane and some wild amaranth in our garden.  We may be the only ones who purposefully plant weeds in our garden!

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea).

Sometimes our environmental efforts conflict with each other. We would like to shop local, but not having a car makes it very time consuming to get to the farmers markets on the far end of town. We do cook some heritage foods that we purchased at Native Seeds:  like Tohono O’odham tepary beans. (Those stubborn little beans took over 24 hours to cook after soaking overnight!), and mesquite flour pancakes with prickly pear syrup. (Yum!) Dan would like to harvest his own mesquite beans, but they always fall to the ground before he gets to it. It’s hard being a programmer/gatherer!

Dan and I are great partners in living sustainably. Though we still struggle with developing daily habits. I squawk at Dan for leaving the water on while he reaches for a fork, “We live in the desert!”  I have learned to turn the water off while brushing my teeth! But I still kick myself for forgetting to bring the reusable grocery bag to the store.

Watershed management workshop.

We have found new ways to water our Tree of Life. Dan introduced me to the Watershed Management Group. We started with a lovely neighborhood tour. And we recently attended the Rainwater and Greywater harvesting classes. We are excited to redesign our yard so we can use washing machine water on our landscape. It’s sure to be hard work, but fun too!

To follow our journey, check out our new blog:

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Arizona's Real Mining Tradition

Bisbee, Arizona

I always enjoy stepping back in time with a nice day trip to one of Arizona’s charming historic mining towns with miners shacks perched precariously on hill sides. Leafing through an old photo album, I peruse pics of a lovely visit to Bisbee. 

In one, my family wears yellow jackets and hard hats with mining lights. I recall how we straddled a wooden 2X8 seat on the mining train, and were pulled into the narrow rock tunnel to hear stories of courageous men overcoming devastating hardships. The guide (a retired miner) shared awe-inspiring tales of human resourcefulness and ingenuity in conquering nature. I flip to another page. After antiquing in Globe, we traveled past less scenic mining towns with ugly boarded up storefronts and dilapidated houses. I was shocked by the miles and miles of abandoned strip mines. More like - land stripped. Land stripped of trees, or any living thing. Land that will never be able to grow anything again.

Watching Francis Causey’s doc, “Ours is the Land,” made me aware of the plight of the nearby Tohono O’odham with the Rosemont Mining Company. The Canadian mining company (with an abhorrent environmental impact record) is attempting to purchase Tohono O’odham holy land for $5 an acre. (You read that right - $5 an acre. The price is set by antiquated law from 1872). In addition to the damage it will do to the desert habitat (where the Tohono O’odham harvest their daily food), it will contaminate their ground water. And the mine doesn’t just affect the reservation. THE MINE WILL USE UP 20% OF TUCSON’S REMAINING GROUND WATER. How can we consider that, when we already supplement our ground water with Colorado River water?

Meanwhile, in another part of our state, Lake Powell has been contaminated with toxic yellow tailings runoff from an abandoned mine in Colorado. No effort was made on the part of the mining company to dispose of the tailings before they leaked into COLORADO’s Animas River.

Mining is threatening Arizona’s precious water supply! For the past decade Arizona has been experiencing a drought. Climate change is already reducing precipitation needed to replenish the rivers that supply our water. It is predicted that groundwater will decrease by 20-40 percent by mid-century.

Lavender Open Pit Mine, Bisbee

Meanwhile, in another part of the state, the San Carlos Apache and many of Superior’s townspeople are fighting to keep the Oak Flat Mountain from becoming a gigantic crater. Arizona Senators McCain and Flake snuck in a last minute rider on a must-pass annual defense department funding bill that allowed the Australian-English mining companies, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, to block-cave the pristine mountain. Oak Flat, which is sacred to the San Carlos Apache, is also protected by law as a national forest. Even the residents of nearby Superior – many miners themselves - don’t want the mine. Besides destroying a favorite recreational area, it will use up the town’s ground water.

So why would Senators McCain and Flake destroy our national park and deplete our precious ground water supply for foreign mine interests? They claim it is to create jobs and improve our economy. But this is a temporary fix at best. Ask the 450 miners at Green Valley-based Sierrita and the 211 miners at Tucson-based Asarco  - who were laid off due to declining profits. The jobs are temporary, but the damage to our planet is long-lasting.

Bisbee Deportation, 1917

Looking back at Arizona history, it’s not hard to see the precedence for this policy. Mining has always been a big part of Arizona’s economy. Arizona was founded on mining interests. (Before that there were only Native Americans and ranchers). But if you look beyond the historic façade, you see a bitter truth – desperate men slaving away and dying in the mines for the profit of a few. Scenic Bisbee is shrouded in suffering. In 1917, 1,286 miners and their supporters who were striking for safer working conditions and fair pay, were arrested by authorities and loaded into cattle cars with three inches of manure on the floor. Although temperatures were in the 90s, no water was supplied. The train stopped 10 miles east of Douglas to take on water. The train was guarded by two deputies with machine guns and 200 armed men. The strikers were finally dropped off 200 miles away.

As much as I like to step back in time to Arizona’s “good ol’ days” by visiting our quaint mining towns, perhaps it’s time to improve on history before Tucson and Phoenix become barren ghost towns too.