Monday, May 31, 2010

Las Vegas, Hummingbird and Beyond.....

Greetings! We've been spending the Memorial Day weekend here in Las Vegas, New Mexico with our dear friends the Ruge Family. Some readers may remember that we spent more than a week on the Ruge Ranch in March, taking care of the horses and dog while this charming family of four went skiing. Their kindness is endless, and being here after winter has loosened its grip and the warmth of spring has arrived is blissful. Our son Rene and daughter-in-law Bevin came along for an overnight, and the Memorial Day feasting on Saturday was legendary. (And Mary even got to ride a horse completely on her own!)

On our way to the Ruge Ranch, the four of us stopped at the Montezuma Hot Springs just outside of Las Vegas. These hot springs are basically the ruins of a former resort which is now kept up by volunteers and is across the road from Armand Hammer's United World College. Rene and I managed to swim in the icy river and then dip ourselves into the hottest spring which is approximately 113 degrees Fahrenheit.....not for the faint of heart! Mary later caved and did the same but only after immersion in the the other springs which were a more balmy 105 or so. It was a great way to relax after the long drive from Taos over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 

Yesterday, we borrowed our hosts' Prius and drove an hour north to Hummingbird Ranch, an intentional community that we visited over the winter when we passed through northern New Mexico the last time. Our return to Hummingbird had the specific purpose of joining in the celebrations as our friends Ryan and Mandy ended their two-year and six-thousand mile bicycle trip around the country in search of an intentional community to call home. (Sound somewhat familiar?) 

After visiting 100 communities, Mandy and Ryan have decided to live at Hummingbird, and their arrival was a festive event replete with a film crew (they are making a movie about their journey), music, costumes, and a gaggle of Hummingbird residents and visitors who created a homecoming unlike any other. The intrepid cyclists and communitarians had no idea that such a party was planned, and they arrived with tears of joy, getting off of their bikes to kiss the ground and receive a plethora of hugs. 

We met Ryan and Mandy when they visited the Sirius Community in Shutesbury, Massachusetts last September, and their quest for community inspired us as we prepared for our own journey. They have been instrumental in our adventure by sharing connections and contacts at key communities, and we are so thrilled that we will be relatively nearby for at least the next few months. We do not believe it's a coincidence that we've all chosen intentional communities here in northern New Mexico, and the intertwining of our journeys is a sweet synchronicity.

Today, our young friend Cassidy took us on our first official bird-watching adventure at the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge. We "only" observed about 30 species of birds (chicken-feed according to Cassidy) but we were happy to play with scopes and binoculars while taking in the view and learning from our highly intelligent guide.

Tomorrow, we will, alas, leave the Ruge Ranch and complete our own journey (or at least this portion of it) as we arrive to The Commons on the Alameda. While our arrival will be much more low-key and under the radar, we have no doubt that the folks at The Commons will be as kind and welcoming as they were when we passed through during five snowy days this past winter. There will be much to reflect on once we've landed and unpacked our humble belongings into a home that has no wheels. We will, no doubt, share some of that joyous and perhaps challenging process with you. Meanwhile, Tina looks forward to it the most and we will be sure to honor her loyal companionship with a special blog featuring  the old gal, traveler extraordinaire. Now, off to tell her the good news!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Thirty Weeks

Today marks 30 weeks that we've been on the road, 210 days since we drove away from our hometown of 17 years into an uncertain but exciting future. What a long, strange trip it's been, to quote a line from  the great Grateful Dead song, Truckin'.  :-)

We are here in Taos with our son and daughter-in-law as the winds and horizontal rains whip across the Taos mesa and thunderstorms roll across northern New Mexico. "The Excellent Adventure" has been an excellent adventure indeed, and we look forward to looking back at the days, weeks and months with continued awe at all that we've seen and done, and all of the interesting people that we've met along the way, some of whom we'll no doubt keep in touch with.

Here's a photo of two candlelit treats that Rene and Bevin surprised us with tonight as a 30-week anniversary surprise (accompanied by other sweet and thoughtful gifts):

Once we're settled into our little rental casita in Santa Fe, it will be time for us to do some looking back, reflecting on this leg of our journey and what it all means. We've learned a lot about ourselves and each other, about America, and about what life on the road can really be. It's an exciting time in our relationship with one another and our individual selves, and the letting go process that preceded our disembarkation from Amherst is still reverberating on many levels.

Our future out here in the West is still unwritten, but we both feel that we've taken the reins of our lives and launched a journey that doesn't simply end when the RV is parked. We see our time in Santa Fe---however short or long it turns out to be---as the second leg of the adventure, and there's no telling how the third leg will manifest itself!

Tomorrow we return to Las Vegas (New Mexico) for a reunion with our good friends whose horses we cared for back in March. On Sunday, we'll be at the Hummingbird Community in Mora, New Mexico for the joyous arrival of our friends Mandy and Ryan who have been bicycling around the country visiting 100 intentional communities ( ! ) and have chosen Hummingbird as their new home. Mandy and Ryan are making a film about their journey, and their website is well worth a visit.

Our arrival to Santa Fe will not necessarily have the fanfare of Mandy and Ryan's arrival to Mora, but a happy soundtrack will be playing in our heads as we create a new home for ourselves at The Commons on the Alameda.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

From Abiquiu to Ojo to Taos

Since leaving Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, the countdown to our arrival to Santa Fe continues, but the fun shows no sign of abating.

Yesterday evening, we met our son and daughter-in-law at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs for a sunset soak in the healing waters. We were lucky enough to meet a local cafe owner who invited us to spend the night on his nearby land after our "kids" drove back to Taos. Sleeping under the nearly full moon, we reveled in the silence and beauty of our surroundings and woke up just before dawn to our first ever desert lightning storm over the mountain.

This morning, we made the gorgeous and uneventful drive to Taos, and were again delighted by the wide open skies of the Taos mesa and the play of the light on the mountains, clouds and sagebrush. 

It's great to be back in Taos, although our stay here will be brief this time around. Being with Bevin and Rene is like coming home, and our welcome was as wonderful as could be. Living in Santa Fe this summer will make visiting quite easy, and we hope to make the trip over the Sangre de Cristo mountains any number of times over the coming summer to this very uniquely beautiful part of New Mexico. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu

Since yesterday, we've been staying at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Ghost Ranch is a retreat and conference center that was originally named "Rancho de Las Brujas" (Ranch of the Witches) by Spanish settlers several centuries ago. Georgia O'Keefe owned a small adobe house here and lived on the premises off and on for fifty years. It has been owned by the Presbyterian Church since 1955 but most of the retreats and conferences are secular in nature. This weekend is a New Agey conference by author Lynn Andrews, and we'll be leaving tomorrow as the hordes arrive.

Mary was the first to visit here ten years ago while traveling through New Mexico with her dear friend Alden. In 2008, we brought our son and daughter-in-law here when we came out West so that they could look at a few graduate schools and have some fun at the same time. Ghost Ranch is a unique place with an awe-inspiring backdrop of multicolored cliffs featured prominently in many of O'Keefe's paintings and drawings.

 Today we biked and then hiked deep into the nearby canyon, where deciduous and non-deciduous trees coexist with numerous cacti in arroyos that still have running water in the springtime. Although Tina got a ride in the basket of Mary's bike for the first two miles or so, she hiked like a trooper for several more, enjoying the feeling of drinking the cool water and periodically getting her feet and belly wet to cool off.  We swam in a lovely creek ourselves, and enjoyed the breeze and shade of the riparian forest.

Mary has really been getting in shape, biking up steep hills with Tina's additional weight behind her, and hiking and biking are simply part and parcel of most of our days. It's been somewhat chilly and windy this past week, so we were so happy to have a picture perfect day here today.

We're realizing that we'll be in New Mexico for at least the next few months, and the rig is starting to feel pretty claustrophobic to all three of us. Our arrival to our little casita in Santa Fe next week will be sweet---if not somewhat shocking in its inability to roll down the highway---and for the near future at least, we'll be less mobile and growing some shallow roots of community and friendship.

Life on the road has its moments of ecstasy and agony as we can all attest, and today was one of those days when the stars and sun (and weather) all seemed perfectly aligned.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


This little town of Chama is in fact quite charming, and a busload of Italian tourists perusing the streets this morning would probably agree. They also seemed to like the espresso at a local cafe.

That said, this morning was the official launch of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which begins its journey in Chama several times a day from this time of year until the end of the tourist season. Keith took a ride on his bike to witness the launch, which was very sweet and quaint in a small town way.

Chama is certainly a part of the Wild West, with places like the Elk Horn Cafe and others with names that would never fly in stuffy New England. They make a mean apple pie here, by the way.

Mary has a gift for finding treasures wherever we go, especially discarded or lost children's toys. Here's a gift from the Chama River.......

Our campground is right on the Rio Chama, and this is the view from our "bedroom" window.....

And this is the view of our rig from downstream.......

Life on the road is still grand, and people everywhere are just so friendly and forthcoming. Soon we'll roll into Taos to spend a few days with our son and daughter-in-law. Then, it's some rooted time in Santa Fe, come what may. And as Neil Young once sang....

"Comes a time when you're driftin'
Comes a time when you settle down......."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

MCS and the Search for a Safe Community

In honor of MCS Awareness Month, we are posting this co-written article in order to share more deeply regarding one of the most significant reasons that we undertook our current journey around the country. Because we both live with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), finding a safe place to call home is paramount to us, and those who have MCS understand what it's like to live like a "canary in the coal mine" in a world saturated with substances that undermine our health and impair our ability to function effectively.

With recent reports showing that even ADHD may be linked to pesticide use, there is a crucial necessity for us to be more public about our MCS, our search for safe housing, and the need for greater awareness about the effects of chemicals, pesticides, and manufactured fragrances on the health of humans and the environment. That said, many hospitals and other health care facilities are now becoming fragrance-free in an effort to support the health of patients, thus awareness is indeed growing about this important public (and personal) health issue.

We offer this article as a missive of support and hope to other canaries, as well as a plea to those without MCS---especially intentional communities---to more deeply understand our plight.


When it comes to finding safe housing, everyone with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) will agree that this is one of the most daunting challenges of living with this most highly inconvenient and disheartening medical condition.

After living in New England for 20 years and becoming chemically injured in the process (most likely due to hidden mold in our home), it was no longer safe for us to live in our beloved neighborhood or continue to work in our meaningful jobs.

Our lovely arboreal homeowners’ association provided what at first appeared to be a healthy sanctuary for our family of three, but our blissful existence was often impeded by the imposition of a variety of common household toxins, including the fumes of lighter fluid, charcoal, dryer sheets, and lawnmower and vehicle exhaust. Lying in hammocks or eating home-cooked meals on our custom-made screened-in porch, we were often driven indoors by clouds of the aforementioned toxins filtering through the forest and onto our property.

When exposed to various chemicals and environmental toxins, we each experience a similar yet somewhat different constellation of symptoms, including headache, confusion, sore throat, irritability, asthma, hives, joint pain, muscle pain, and burning eyes. When mold was discovered in our attic after our house was put on the market, the potential culprit of our mutual MCS only added to our intense desire and need for a safe refuge.

In our workplaces which had fragrance-free policies, we were both exposed to environmental insults that exacerbated our condition and underscored the need to radically change our lives. Policies are virtually ineffective without enforcement, often driving wedges between people of varying cultures and levels of acceptance, support and awareness. The commitment to educating others can be exhausting, and workplace exposures impair job performance and strain professional relationships. Thus, we canaries often find ourselves frequently leaving otherwise satisfying and meaningful jobs in order to preserve our health and sanity.

Having lived in an intentional community early in our relationship, we decided that ecologically-minded intentional communities with a focus and commitment to sustainability would offer the greatest potential for finding a safe home. We hoped that this form of community would use earth-friendly, biodegradable and non-toxic products in keeping with that vision of sustainable living, and provide for us a safe place to live our lives in peace and health.

Hitting the proverbial road in a 29-foot mobile home, we began to scour the country for an intentional community or eco-village that offered an opportunity for healthy living. Traversing the East Coast, Deep South, Gulf Coast and Southwestern United States, we visited over two-dozen intentional communities in more than twenty states over the course of seven months.

Many of these communities profess to live close to the earth by using sustainable building and permaculture techniques, renewable energy sources, organic gardening, and other well-meaning practices. In our naivete, we did indeed assume that “sustainable living” would include the use of earth-friendly and non-toxic products, but we’ve sadly found that many such communities simply reach for the cheapest common denominator, with Tide, Bounce, Palmolive, Cascade and other products being the easy mainstream fix.

Our disappointment and disillusionment were great when many visits to such communities revealed that people were often unwilling to “walk the talk” when it came to using safe and healthy products. As to the issue of being fragrance-free and MCS-friendly, most communities appeared oblivious at best, much to our dismay.

Earthaven Ecovillage in Asheville, North Carolina, Sunflower River Community in Albuquerque, New Mexico and The Commons on the Alameda Cohousing Community in Santa Fe, New Mexico are the three communities that we have found in our travels to best embody earth-friendliness and consideration for those living with MCS.

While people at Earthaven do indeed burn a great deal of wood for winter heat and state that they are not well-equipped to have people with severe MCS join them, many of the residents appear to embrace true sustainability.Sunflower River has no openings for new members at this time but they are a growing community that truly walks their talk. Twins Oaks and Acorn communities in Southern Virginia are runners up, but they use lavender scented natural detergent which neither of us can tolerate without becoming symptomatic.

Although the numbers are few (and we have only visited a fraction of the intentional communities in the United States), we are grateful to have found a few that seem to understand how important it is to use biodegradable products that are healthy and earth-friendly. And of these few, the Commons on the Alameda is the only one who uses all fragrance-free products!

The Commons on the Alameda Cohousing Community in Santa Fe is an extremely MCS-friendly community that has adopted a strict fragrance-free policy in an effort to create a safe haven for residents with environmental illness. Championed by an medical doctor specializing in environmental medicine who lives at the community, the shared spaces at The Commons are for all intents and purposes fragrance-free, and guests and residents are urged to comply with the policies. We are actually planning to live at The Commons this summer in order to test the waters and see how their experiment in MCS-friendly community is going, bringing with us great hopes that we will find it to be a safe haven where we can, at long last, feel comfortable and at peace.

For canaries considering looking into intentional community as a possible source of safe housing, we would like to warn those with MCS that even eco-villages and communities that espouse sustainable living as a way of life so often overlook the very products that people put on their bodies, into the water, and onto the ground. As many of us already know, mainstream products are often cheap, readily accessible, and have brand recognition that even the most alternative individuals cannot resist. The tendency (can we even say addiction?) to purchase such products is rampant, and even those who live in intentional communities often choose to drive to Wal-Mart and buy whatever cleaning products are on sale. We understand that communitarians also have to make ends meet, but when one’s habits as a consumer fly in the face of one’s proclaimed ecological lifestyle, questions are raised as to whether that community or individual is truly thinking clearly about their choices as a consumer and their commitment to the earth (and their health).

Based on our research and experience thus far, our conclusion is that intentional communities are not a safe bet for those with MCS and environmental illnesses, and the learning curve remains steep even for those who claim to be living a sustainable and healthy lifestyle.

Meanwhile, many of our fellow canaries live with severe MCS which prevents them from exploratory adventures like the one we've undertaken. They are unable to risk the dangers--and expenses--of the unknown, despite the fact that they have so much to contribute. Living with MCS sadly often necessitates social isolation in order to minimize symptoms which only worsen with subsequent exposures to the most basic of chemicals. Adding to the isolation are the common financial hardships caused by the medical need to let go of jobs in toxic work places. Employees with MCS are also frequently discriminated against by employers who are unwilling to make reasonable accommodations, despite the fact that MCS is recognized as a disability by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Having MCS inconveniently interrupted our careers and engendered enormous out-of-pocket medical expenses in order to prevent our illness from worsening. Even with good health insurance, access to treatment has been very expensive and limited, and the fact that the AMA refuses to recognize MCS as a physiological illness makes finding sympathetic medical providers an additional challenge. Avoidance is the best medicine, thus our radical lifestyle change and quest for safe community living.

Our hope for the future is that more and more intentional communities will realize the importance of the need for safe housing, including across-the-board use of fragrance-free, environmentally friendly products. May they become safe havens for canaries of the coal-mine while taking their commitment to the earth and her inhabitants even further. Meanwhile, perhaps a few MCS communities will even be born from our collective desire for a safe place to rest our weary heads!

We remain hopeful that we will find a place to call home for the long-term where we can live safely and in better health. We also remain realistic that uphill battles and further education will be needed for those with whom we share living and breathing space, perhaps for the rest of our lives. For now, the two of us will continue to explore whether intentional community will fit the bill when it comes to healthy living as we land in our temporary nest with great hopes for a healthy future for all.

(For more information about MCS, please visit The Canary Report.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

On and Off the Grid in Colorado

Well folks, it's been an "action-packed" week here on our excellent adventure, and for most of that time we've been off the grid and out of cell-phone and internet range. That said, today marks our 29-week anniversary of being on the road, and the consistently interesting experiences of people and nature keep things humming along quite smoothly and gloriously.

We had a brief visit to the charming city of Durango in order to check out this city that we've heard so much about. Durango is special----it has some of the best kayaking, mountain biking, skiing and hiking in the country, and the city seems to be steeped in the culture of the great outdoors. The Animas River flows right through downtown, and we've heard that summertime brings literal flotillas of people bobbing down the river in anything that can float. Durango has excellent cafes, restaurants and shops, and also caters to those who prefer the arts. If it wasn't so snowy in the winter, it would certainly be on our short list. Alas, it's a nice place to visit.......

Speaking of visiting Durango, one thing that drew us there was a lovely couple (Randy and Kristen) who we met oh-so-briefly at a campground in Alabama many months back. Giving us their card and inviting us to keep in touch after a thirty-minute conversation of like-minded souls, we took them up on their offer and we had a delightful lunch and walk along the river, confirming the kinship that we felt when we crossed paths so long ago. Last month, we even had lunch with Randy's sister and brother-in-law in Silver City, New Mexico, further proof that the kindness of strangers is alive and well in American society.

Leaving Durango, we made our way not thirty miles east to the San Juan National Forest and a small National Forest Service campground down a dirt road and along a gorgeous rushing Colorado river. Luckily for us, even more kind strangers crossed our paths in the persons of the campground hosts who took us under their wing and made us feel right at home in an otherwise people-free empty wilderness campground. Without electricity, water, sewer hook-ups or cellphone service, we spent two days lying in the hammock, doing some writing, talking with our hosts, and hiring them to do some needed work on the rig (he's an expert RV mechanic and she's a Jill-of-All-Trades).

Jack and Rose are salt-of-the-earth wonderful people who welcomed us warmly and advised us on all manner of things pertaining to RVS, trucks, engines and camping. They carry an encyclopedic knowledge in their heads and willingly shared it with us. We especially enjoyed the stories that they told, and we laughed with them more than we've laughed with anyone in a long, long time. (Who need Laughter Yoga, anyway!)

Who would have thought that two self-professed red-neck hillbillies and two itinerant hippie RV'ers could hit it off to the point that they begged us to stay longer and to visit them at their Arizona hideaway next fall. We owe a debt of gratitude to Jack and Rose for their kindness, skill, friendship and knowledge, and we all had great fun talking about RV'ing and camping as a mutually satisfying way of life. Here's a photo of them leaning over our Cummins Turbo Diesel that Jack says is the best engine ever made, an engine that many a trucker has salivated over when we tell them it has less than 70,000 miles on it (they've been known to last more than 1 million miles!).

Here's Mary meditating by the river.....

The view behind our rig......

Our local pond which was cold but refreshing (and startlingly green)......

The hammock......

Taking our somewhat reluctant leave of our priceless hosts and forest refuge, we headed through the touristy but attractive town of Pagosa Springs. We had to pass up the pricey hot spring resort across the river (the winds were gusting up to 50mph this afternoon), but we had a quick foot soak in some of the public springs just off of the main street in town.

Now, we've returned to northern New Mexico and have ensconced ourselves in the town of Chama, with yet another campsite overlooking a river, this time the Rio Chama (with perhaps some photos manana).

At 29 weeks, we're still looking forward to our more settled time in Santa Fe, but also recognize the blessings of this current lifestyle, one which we are hesitant to give up and will probably continue in some form or another, probably much sooner than later! (Hint, hint!)

Anyway, being back in New Mexico feels like coming home, and we're happy to report that the Land of Enchantment is still as friendly and enchanting as ever!