Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Life and the Indigo Girls

Last night, I was at an Indigo Girls concert at Humphrey's by the Bay. It was my fourth IG concert at Humphrey's; kind of a summer ritual.

It was fifteen years ago that I first heard the Girls, at a summer concert at Oaks Amusement Park in Portland. It was beautiful as only summer in the Northwest can be; mild, green, light until late. I hadn't heard much of the Indigo Girls before this, and this was an ideal introduction- a concert in an old amusement park, complete with skating rink and kiddie rides, where the seating was blankets spread out upon the soft, green grass. I went home from that trip with a few tapes and an admiration for the work of the Girls that continues to this day. I've actually become a bigger fan as the years have gone by; it wasn't until five years or so ago that I really started collecting all of their albums.

I have found since then many times in my life where the lyrics of an Indigo Girls song melds with an incident in my life. The one that immediately comes to mind is when I first heard "Ozilline," from the Come on Now Social album. I had just lost my beloved dog Jet after a long illness, and I remember sitting in front of the speakers sobbing.

I had to put the dog down
before I hit the road
yeah, I watched that sweet old life
become a bag of bones

After that, it was a couple of years before I could listen to that song. To this day, I cannot listen to it without crying, and in concert, when Amy picks up the mandolin and Emily the banjo, and "Ozilline" is the next song on the setlist, the tears stream down my face. But today, I also realize the power and beauty of the song as an affirmation of the circle of life, of life's processes and ebb and flow.

When we bought our land in La Center, one of the first things I did was create an iMovie of the film and snapshots I had taken on that journey, with a soundtrack from the Girls.

Up on the watershed
standing at the fork in the road
you can stand there and agonize
'til your agony's your heaviest load
you'll never fly as the crow flies
get used to a country mile
when you're learning to face
the path at your pace
every choice is worth your while

And, indeed, this was a watershed for us, filled with choices- the eventual move from San Diego County, where both Mike and I have spent most of our lives. And there was the physical presence of watersheds too- streams and rivers and waterfalls everywhere.

everywhere I turn
all the beauty just keeps shaking me
"World Falls"

And, lately, of course, the political climate and the hope for 2008...

What we get from your war walk
The ticker of the nation running down like a bad clock
I want the pendulum to swing again
So that all your mighty mandates were just spitting in the wind
"Pendulum Swinger"

And so it has gone, over the years. I hope there are many more concerts to come.

well I don't know where it all begins
and I don't know where it all will end
we're better off for all that we let in
"All That We Let In"

How green was my valley?

This is how green my valley was in March, after we finally got a few drops of rain:

When we moved in here, this view was one of the big selling points of the house. Over 100 acres of dryland hay fields plus 80 acres of chaparral, stretching from below our house to Hwy 94 in the distance.

Even in drier times, the view is magnificent.

The dogs love walking through the fields, and some locals ride their horses there. I've watched our local coyote family hunting through the fields; Mom, Dad and last year's kids were out there yesterday, having a group howl-in at 6:30 AM before going off hunting (presumably this year's pups are in a den out there, somewhere...)

But this is all about to change. Of course. In our hectic, crowded, acquisitive society, there is no room for hayfields that, with our unending years of drought, don't even produce a good crop most years.

Plans for a new development were submitted to the county last month. They are going to call it "Peaceful Valley Ranch." 50 lots on that 180 acres, 2-7 acres each, for "estate homes." A polo field, an equestrian center, a new fire station, a sop of a few acres in biological mitigation, including the trees along the seasonal stream where the great horned owls nest.

Construction will probably begin 2 years from now. The plans state that their first act will be to grade the whole project; an endeavor that will take 180 days and involve moving 300,000 tons of dirt.

Somehow, I don't think this will be peaceful. And I am sure that the coyotes agree.

Who's gonna save the farmland
from the subdivision man?
Indigo Girls- They Won't Have Me"

Friday, June 1, 2007

Bury my heart at Melody

Most people regard me as pretty much ultra-liberal. Animal rights, gay rights, environmental justice...I'm all for 'em.

But my town is embroiled in a dispute right now that tries my liberal bent.

Picture this. You are a Native American, at home in your house on the land where you were born. Suddenly, a group of armed thugs invades your house, starts seizing your belongings, and orders you off the land. A huge crowd gathers to defend your rights and your home, yet dozens of officers intervene to allow the sacking of your property to continue. A treaty is signed saying that your home will not be destroyed- yet less than two days later, it is razed to the ground. Is this yet another example of cruel European imperialism?

We got these energy companies
who want to take the land
and we got churches by the dozens
trying to guide our hands
and turn our Mother Earth
over to pollution war and greed
no no

"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" Buffy Sainte-Marie
(as sung by the Indigo Girls)

A minuscule group here is seeking to benefit themselves at the expense of the residents and the environment of Jamul by building a giant complex in our tiny town at the corner of Melody and Highway 94, a complex that will cause traffic to clog our one access road, strain our already-overtaxed services such as fire and water, pollute our dark skies with nighttime lighting, and blight our views and nearby property values. It's the builders of this monstrosity that evicted the rightful residents and destroyed their homes.

What is being built? A Wal-Mart? A polluting factory? Another mega-mall? Another ticky-tacky housing development?

Uh, no... a casino. By the noble, suffering, downtrodden sovereign nation that calls itself the "Jamul Indian Village."

That's right. In their eyes, it's the impoverished citizens of a desperately needy nation against the wealthy NIMBY white menace. They see the casino as their only possible salvation, and the tribal leaders have stated that they will do whatever it takes to get their casino.

Whatever it takes... which was, in this case, disenrolling several tribal members who opposed the casino, and bulldozing the homes of Walter Rosales and Karen Toggery, lifelong native American residents who opposed the casino as a desecration of sacred land where their ancestors are buried.

And, on that fateful morning in March, it was not other native Americans who stood side by side with Walter and Karen, as hired thugs sprayed them with pepper spray and struck them with batons. It was the residents of Jamul.

Choices, choices

If all goes well, and the housing market in San Diego doesn't crash, and our land values aren't blighted by a casino, and all the planets align and we appease the proper gods, then in about three years we will be building our own home on our land in La Center, WA.

Building a home is a monumental undertaking, and even with several years to prepare, making choices is difficult.

We know where we want our home to go, and that's about it. The rest is still up in the air- lots of ideas but many decisions yet to make. Many of those decisions involve how green we want our home to be. Others revolve around what our home will look like.

I'll skip the tedious recitations of square footage and bathroom components to look at the ecological implications.

Unfortunately (and unfairly, it seems) green building is not cheap. Even is an area like the Northwest, where green products are widely available through business such as the Environmental Home Center in Seattle and Environmental Building Supplies in Portland, building a truly green home is still considered a luxury for the upper class.

There are, of course, views to the contrary, and a lot depends on what your idea of "going green" is. Some practices- such as careful siting of the house and placement of windows to maximize passive solar capabilities- cost nothing extra. And some things- such as stone veneers rather than real stone- cost less.

But going the whole nine yards and being as green as you can- that'll cost ya. Recycled timbers? Much more than newly-harvested ones. Wood only from forests certified to use sustainable harvesting methods? Harder to find and more expensive. Plywood without harmful volatile compounds like formaldehyde? Yikes. Geothermal energy systems? Thousands of dollars more than conventional.

It shouldn't be that way- at least in my mind. Building green should be rewarded and be cheaper. In some ways there are rewards- such as tax breaks for using energy-efficient materials and technologies- but there aren't enough rewards yet for most people to consider all the available technologies to reduce our footprint on the planet.

Luckily, in many areas, interest in green building is growing. Hopefully, in a few years, the demand will lead to a drop in prices and an increase in available options...hopefully in time for building our house!