Sunday, October 31, 2010


Okay, it wouldn’t be a Charlie blog if I didn’t take a minute to nerd out. First I’m going to whine and complain that my headphone set went the way of all headphones before it’s time had come. It broke, however, in such a way that all the electronics are intact and if I jury rig it onto my head it can still be used. It actually kind of works out this way, cause I can lay on my side with just one earphone on the upward-facing ear. This is nice for listening to audio books.

USB AC Adaptor

My other indispensible toy is this USB wall wart that came with my phone. Because USB has a standard voltage, you can plug many different devices into this that get power from USB. So far I’ve only used to for my phone and my ipod, but I’m sure it will have more uses.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tar and a Newcomer

Part of the dome construction process involves applying tar to the surface of the super adobe bag for waterproofing. Tar is nasty stuff. If it gets in your clothes it’s pretty much there to stay. It can even stick to your skin through several showers. We had a hard to explaining this to Pumpkin, who has an uncanny skill for inserting himself into whatever chore you happen to be doing at any given time and sitting or standing right where our hands need to be. It’s not hard to guess, then, why Pumpkin’s new nickname is Tar Tail. What a silly cat.

An image of the construction site, as requested

We have received a new recruit out here in the desert. His name is Lev and he is the coolest. A young man of Russian decent, he has lived in New York City, Chicago, and the Midwest (Milwaukee it think). He comes to us fresh from as visit to India where he spent to exploring yoga and meditation. He has an impressive intellect and a disarming wit.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Visiting Harvey

Today we made a trip about 10 minutes away to visit Harvey. Harvey is the quintessential tinkerer. He spent 23 years in the Marine Corps and has perfected the art of taking old machinery and fixing it up to suit his fancy. Among the many projects he showed us, were a hand-made ditch witch, a small system of homemade equipment for distilling “straight vegetable oil” (SVO) from discarded fryer grease that he collects from a  restaurant chain, and a device for straining dirt into different particle sizes (the finest of which being material for his garden).

I am confident that it is people like Harvey who will rebuild society after the next major world conflict. Using worms, compost, and manure he has developed his little lot of desert into a rich loam that grows great mounds of tomatoes, eggplant, pomegranate, prickly pear, and at least a dozen other crops that feed him and provide slop for his four pigs. When we arrived he was working on combining parts of four broken diesel engines into a single engine that he would mount on a boat he had bought for a couple thousand dollars and which he estimated he would turn around and sell for ten times as much.

While we were at Harvey’s, I had cell reception, so I took the opportunity to raise Max on the phone. He informed me that my invitation packet had arrived at his place in Los Angeles. I’m going to have to head over their to pick it up. The timing would be great since the next day is an off day here on the ranch, except Max will be in San Francisco at a conference all weekend.

Unfortunately, my camera was out of batteries during the visit to Harvey’s. He’s going to be making adobe bricks with his friend, Jose next week, and I’m hoping I can make it to that, preferably with my camera. At one point he asked where everyone visiting was from. The roll call went as follows: Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, New Jersey.

This is Alfred. He's top cat. He pretty much just sits on a couch pad by the door all day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Life on the Ranch

Aquarius Ranch is in the basin of dry lake that dates to prehistoric times. It’s in the Mojave Desert about a three-hour drive from Las Vegas. Los Angeles is a small dome of light on the horizon at night. There is a radio station here for people on I-15, commuting to one of those cities or going between them called, “The Drive”. It plays an odd collection of Steve Miller and Metallica mixed with the occasional track by Nickelback or Sevendust.

The first dome house (already complete when I arrived)

Life on the ranch ain’t bad. Mornings are devoted to animal care and whatever other labor is the order of the day. Sunday and Monday we tend the garden, and Tuesday through Thursday we work on the dome house. In the afternoons we get out of the heat and do whatever we please. Same goes for Fridays and Saturdays.

Pumpkin, one of Penny’s dozen or so cats

I could sure get used to this. There is a fridge in the house with food just for WWOOFers and a trailer where we all hang out and cook meals (and where James currently lives). The big news from the day before I got here was the 40-mph winds. Everyone was nervous for their trailers and anything that wasn’t tied down was liable to blow away. Later this week we are going to tour a neighbor’s ranch. More on that to come.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Aquarius Ranch: Day 1

This is the trailer I presently call home

There is a lot to learn here at Aquarius Ranch. The place pretty much has a revolving door (Penny says the magic number is about 6 WWOOFers at any given time, each working for six hours a day), so routines and schedules are important. The day begins at 8:00 with a short meeting in the house. I was on horse duty, so Penny took me around the corrals, introducing me to her five horses (Poco, Navajo, Raffles, Feather, and Johnny) and acquainting me with the routine by which she cares for them.

Today was a dome day which meant contributing to the ongoing construction of a dome house on the property. Fellow WWOOFer, James was here before and has returned after taking an intensive course at the nearby Cal-Earth Institute with other students from around the world. The course was in the construction of special dome-shaped dwellings made from a material known as super adobe which consists of earth, water, and cement.

Together WWOOFers Stephen, Bryan, and I worked under James’ direction to fill long tubes made of a woven plastic material and lay them on top of a layer of identical tubing that was already laid when I arrived. I worked for several hours out in the 62-degree day (actually quit bearable with the steady breeze) listening to 96.9 FM “The Drive” until it was time for lunch. When we stepped inside, the garden director, Tonya already had a delicious, cheesy vegan sausage pasta dish waiting for us.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Into the Desert

I awoke at Max’s apartment having spent the evening before at a great Mexican restaurant and a very authentic-feeling, smoky Korean bar. Having given myself until 3pm to catch my bus to Barstow, I was able to leisurely shower, repack, and make my way to the Greyhound station. I dozed and listened to drum n bass while watching through the windows of the bus as the Los Angeles urban jungle slowly gave way to dry mountains and desert subdivisions and finally the rugged brush of the Mojave Desert.

Penny, my first host picked me up in Barstow around 6pm and we drove another half-hour to Hinkley, a tiny desert community that garnered national attention years ago when Erin Brockovich went to court against the authorities to win its people the right to clean drinking water (never fear; Penny’s ranch, Aquarius Ranch gets its water from a separate aquifer).

Arriving around dark, Penny gave me a cursory tour and went over some ground rules before introducing me to my fellow WWOOFers and saying goodnight. There was just enough time for a game of Settlers of Catan (I won!) before it was time for bed.

The inside of my trailer

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It’s in the Mail!

Thursday afternoon as I drove across town for the third or fourth time, scrambling to square away the last of my arrangements for moving out of my apartment, sloughing excess possessions and cramming what was worth keeping into the space under the stairs at my mom's place, I received a call from the notorious 202 area code.

It was the placement office calling to tell me they had mailed me an invitation packets on October 9. Concluding that it must have been lost in the mail, she agreed to send a new one to my friend's address in Los Angeles. Hopefully it will have reached him by the time I arrive. All I know so far is that I’m departing in March.

Friday was spent with my new friends, OMEN's current VISTAs, on a trip to Tillamook to help Food Roots work on its community gardens. We camped in a yurt and I departed first thing this morning for Portland where I caught Amtrak's Coastal Starlight bound for LA. As I write this, a couple strums mandolins and sings folk songs two tables down from me here in the observation car as I barrel into the California night.

The 2010-11 OMEN VISTAs plus a dog (you know, the one in the orange jacket)