While we were dining in Santa Fe we discovered a little local paper and, in it, an article by a woman named Arina Pittman, touting sustainability and permaculture in NM. I found her published blog, lotsoflifeinoneplace, both timely and delicious, and right in line with what I was currently reading in Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. When we realized that her husband, Scott Pittman, co-founded the American branch of the Permaculture Institute with Australian founder, Bill Mollison, Ben called Arina right away to see if we could meet them.
Though Arina admitted later that she was mildly annoyed by the lateness of our call, she offered for us to join them for the final class of one of their Permaculture sessions in Albuquerque on Sunday. I was sort of skeptical about filming a class – due to inherent lack of dynamics – but all 3 of us agreed the work they are doing seems incredibly important so we determined to go regardless, and were not disappointed. We arrived early and met the Pittmans at the door of the Center for Action and Contemplation. Scott, who put me in mind of a wise and wry green Santa Claus from Texas, and Arina, his lovely dark Russian wife made introductions and set up camp lightly under a plastic Christmas tree. We had a terrific interview with Scott that I can’t wait to see on film. Then we joined our hosts for lunch, amusing them with our efforts to make no garbage at the Flying Star. They made us take a picture of our minor failures (toothpick, napkin and tiny plastic cup).
After lunch, students started showing up and the final presentations began. The Permaculture Institute not only teaches the basic tenets of Permaculture but also requires of its students actual work in the field – planning, finding areas that are in need of permaculture and then MAKING things happen. Their projects don’t end with just the presentation, they are ongoing and involved with the community. During filming, Scott called a Native American friend of his named Larry Littlebird who came over to talk to us. It was, to say the least, profound, listening to his stories and his message. We must live and we must love and we must laugh. Seems so simple. Surely not too simple for transplanted Westerners to understand? Larry Littlebird thanked us for what we are doing and went on his way. We continued filming the students, shared in their wonderful potluck and then got to see part of their talent show (also required part of the class). Long day, very long day. Exhausted, we packed into Rachel Carson and headed to Taos in the dark.
Taos has been a hotspot in Ben’s little black environmental book for a number of years because of an odd type of house called an Earthship – built out of earth-rammed recycled truck tires, bottles, cans, and adobe, catching rain and recycling greywater to feed indoor planters – these homes are built to last and run completely off-grid. NO electricity bills! In fact, the earthship is one of the first ideas Ben introduced me to when we started getting romantical… so we couldn’t pass through Taos without visiting them and getting some on film. They are really very sculptural and quite beautiful. We have each of us stayed in an “earthship” before, there are always one or two open and available for rent, but for this trip we got to finally stay at the Dobson House.
When we visited Joan and John Dobson last winter with Ted on our short test trip, we were amazed by the warmth their spacious off-grid earthbuilt home held even in the February mountain air, and hoped that we would get a chance to try out the guest room on the actual triop. Mark booked us there for two days. Joan made amazing breakfasts both days and gave us a nice interview. She also pointed us toward her friend, Robert Mirabal, a Native American recording artist – musician, dancer and maker of flutes – who lives outside of Taos Pueblo and who farms his land.
We found Robert at his home and were graciously invited into the backyard to get his take on the direction we are heading. He was pensive and thoughtful, and not at all shy about saying that it is a mistake to think that we are separate from the earth. When Mark noted how Atlanta legislators were summoning people to pray for rain, Robert laughed out loud. “That’s great, man,” he said. “Let the droughts come, man! Let them come. You know what my people did when the water ran out?” (We didn’t.) “They MOVED!” and he broke into a great laugh. At the very end of the interview, as he bent over to sign the release forms, Robert explained, “The next time you visit an Indian man’s or Indian woman’s house, bring a gift.” We felt very ashamed. “It’s a sign of respect.” He told us not to feel bad. We wondered what we should bring. “Seeds!” he said laughing. But he meant it. And as we were leaving, he stopped by a bin and scooped out some of his own family’s corn kernels for us as our gift, and he filled one of my gloves.
So now we know. I was never feeling so humble…