Human Places

One of many desert places

Our little place in the north Chihuahuan Desert is many things to many different creatures. Including us. I hesitate to call it ‘my/our property’; it doesn’t sit well with me. Instead, I think of it as we are the current custodians, or more aptly, stewards. Allow me to explain with an excerpt from an earlier post I wrote:

But what is property? Many layers and many words exist to explain human relationships to the land: ownership, possession, property, belonging. In the US, individual ownership is in reality renting a parcel of land that is actually in the collective, or national, property. We pay for rights to call it ours, pay taxes for the local, state and federal infrastructure, and use it with the community consent. The Government enforces the will of the community, determines individual claims to property, resolves conflicts over territories and protects the entire community. Or as Firesign Theater once said, “We’re all Bozos on this bus.”

Sometimes afflicted with that decades-old inner conflict (sometimes outer), it rose again this trip: a strong personal desire -no, urge- to have my own land, my own spot on this earth, and, at the other spectrum, share it with others, equally and strongly supporting public lands. Partly I was there to investigate a specific rectangle of land in the desert to call my own, build a humble meager domicile, subsist with self-reliant utilities and services (except grading the road; my bike can’t do that), and protect it from harm and disrespect by others.

Yet, to dissect that vast desert into pieces of ‘private property’ seems irreconcilable. It just seems wrong. Maybe impossible. The first deed for my spot in the Maine woods where I built a cabin was written on a cedar shingle with tree marking crayon. On one ridge in the desert I felt like painting on a large flagstone “This spot right here belongs to me as long as I live, whereas I shall build a small unobtrusive adobe, live and provide my own water and power. Just grade my roads, please, in exchange for an annual fee. Anyone is welcome to visit and share iced tea.”

And so, several years later, we have temporary rights (aren’t all land rights temporary in the grand time of things?) to twenty acres of draws, rock, cacti, sand, dust, clay. Yet, only a small portion of that twenty acres is flat enough to build upon, even stand upright on. Most of it is varying angles of ancient eroded seabed that now resemble cascading yellow-tan badlands, slashed with draws filled with unexplored hidden oases of vegetation and habitat for many critters. So we share this small place with the rest of the desert creatures and we don’t mind if they come to visit, say Hello (or protest) in their own language, as long as we can live together on this place. Most of all, there will be no fences, no signs declaring ownership, no towering iron gates with big pointed stars, no tall pointy roofs, no cement sidewalks or paved driveways.

Now we are exploring options for constructing a small and humble home in which to keep warm and the wind out. We will try to keep it as unobtrusive as we can. With no modern services available to us (which is fine with me), we will provide our own off the grid: water, and energy. This will be an ongoing process, but then, isn’t it all ongoing?

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