Spring Stories, a Happy Pause

Plus news from the house project in the Valley of the Cool Sunshine

For new subscribers, sometimes newsletters are more personal, with updates for those who are follwing our project to bring back to life and abandoned house in rural Colorado. This is one of those.

It’s been a hectic, yet also relaxing few weeks. Hectic, because we’ve had family in town lending a hand on our house. They’ve kept us moving at an un-leisurely, yet pleasingly productive pace. Relaxing, because they’ve also kept me away from technology and my interminable news-reading habit.

It’s a temporary, guilty pleasure not following the headlines. And taking this pause was easier since we finally have leaders acting somewhat compassionately toward nature and humans. It’s sure lightened my mood, a lot.

To further make life lighter still, the headlines I have seen have been outstanding.

One in particular is Biden’s announcement to double U.S. Paris climate goals, by cutting greenhouse gas emissions 52 percent by 2030. That is doubly important because this country can now finally start pushing other countries to up their ante. This week the U.K. also stepped up and announced its plan to slash emissions 78 percent by 2035. Another amazing milestone, we have a Native American running the Interior Department, who just started her job. It is wonderfully bizarre to experience a president and political majority who are actually an environmental champions.

But on the other had, I’m feeling a bit like Gandalf.

I know that over in Mordor the orcs are regrouping, preparing for the next battle. Their lies purchased with oil revenues. Their eyes that see only lumber, not the beauty and intricacy of a forest.

Wait. Let me retract the battle analogy. To make lasting change, we really need to work toward something positive, not spend our energy fighting something negative. But it is really damn hard to just ignore a fight when people keep chucking spears at you.

These spear-chuckers seem to be fueled by blind desire for money, and we, as a society, have spent a great deal of effort glorifying this pursuit of wealth, even as we know it is causing the breakdown of our planet’s life systems. Maybe someday we’ll see such greed as mental illness and diagnose this destructive money-delerium as a disease for which there is a cure.

But in the meantime, a fine example of the regrouping of unkind forces happened last week. The oil and tobacco industries jointly sponsored a conference at which government environmentalists spoke about climate solutions. Hmm, two industries who use the same PR tactics (even the same PR firms) to harm people and influence policy on a grand scale. It’s a disturbing greenwashing debacle for many reasons, as cunningly pointed out by climate reporter Emily Atkin in this piece.

So, I know it won’t be long before the world’s troubles burst my bubble of respite.

In a few weeks, we’ll be tipping into wildfire and hurricane season, with record levels of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. Smoke will stain our lungs, winds and water will tear apart our communities, and both will destroy some of the places we love most. The very places we turn to when we need solace.

Our extinction crisis will throw deep depression on those whose sensitive, compassionate hearts we need most. Crops will fail. Millions more refugees will need help, but a kind hand and sympathetic border policies will be increasingly harder to find. Before the decade’s up, it’s likely the last wild orangutan will take her parting breath. Her forest finally fully replaced with the palm oil plantations that are necessary to fill trillions of little plastic-wrapped snack packs, ensuring our unlimited access to junk food while making good on our worship of shareholder profits.

These are many problems we need to tackle head-on. Problems we can tackle. But that’s enough of them for today. Because sometimes we really need to just go outside and appreciate how wonderful this world is, at this very moment.

It is spring. And spring brings many reasons for hope and happiness.

Around here — here being the high-altitude, harsh environs of Colorado’s San Luis Valley — the bare tree branches are hinting of buds. Bits of green ground cover are peeping out, and livening up the scene.

I could go on for pages about our valley coming to life. Prairie dogs are up and about. Beavers are chomping down cottonwoods. Finches are flirting at the bird feeder. We even saw two doves humping on the telephone pole. Every story needs a little romance. You’re welcome.

So drop me a line and let me know how your spring is shaping up. I’d love to hear your stories and see your photos.

News from the Valley of the Cool Sunshine

Steve and my spring stories mostly have to do with the house project. So for our friends following this, here’s a long-overdue update.

We finished dry-walling the upstairs, just in time for my dad and Martha to show up. They officially became the first people to spend the night in the house (we’ve been sleeping in the van).

They spent the next week or so helping us disassemble this bastard child of a back porch. It was laborious work. The roof had about a dozen layers of soggy shingles and plywood. I guess someone thought that when it leaked they could just keep adding more layers to fix the problem. It didn’t.

Another huge task they completed for us was a big clean of the yard. There were decades worth of tumbleweeds, garbage, and a really gnarly old camper top. They trimmed the trees as well, and set the stage for the next round — planting the yard.

On the way to a hike we found a newly graded road, with some plants uprooted. So we grabbed a bush and a small tree, and I planted them. The tree didn’t have many roots, so we don’t know if it will make it, but it’s been almost five weeks and it’s still alive, so there’s hope.

Just a day or two after they took off, Steve’s dad arrived from Florida. We had just enough time to go to storage and upgrade the guest room with a bed (vs. a camping mattress), arm chair, TV, dresser, and curtains. Very fancy. Almost like a real room.

Steve’s dad, Charlie, came in a whirlwind of knowledge, first getting our shower up and running, which is really an upgrade, and then the rest of the plumbing. We are also now able to use the washing machine, as well as wash dishes in the kitchen sink. We are feeling quite fancy.

Meanwhile, Steve rebuilt floors, dry-walled the bathroom, dug a huge trench for the outside water line, straightened the roof line, built soffits, and a other manly things.

I’ve mostly just been working in the yard. When I say “yard,” I mean the quarter-acre of dirt surrounding the house. My mom is an amazing gardener, but I neglected to learn from her, and so I am sorely uninformed when it comes to any of this. But my wonderful mother helped me pick out some plants, and the work here has begun. I have to say, I am really loving this work.

In here there’s a sumac, an Apache bush, a currant tree, some sage, a big grass blob, and another roadkill tree. But lush is not a word I believe we’ll ever utter in the San Luis Valley.

Part of the problem is that, in the spring, it’s a bit of a dust bowl. High winds, combined with farmers tilling fields means sometimes we can’t see the road.

Trying for a bit of a bird sanctuary in back. Leaving some dead trees (not yet sure which ones are dead and which are hibernating), some water and food, and some newly planted junipers, mountain mahogany, and sage.

Now that everyone is gone, last night we finally got to spend our first night in the house. We love sleeping in the van, but the house adds a level of luxury. That’s it for now. And don’t forget to send in your spring stories to karunae@mac.com, or

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