I can remember the day I stumbled into, what I didn’t know at the time, my launch point to the world of sustainability. Standing at the office computer in my dads tire shop; I had been searching various sustainability buzz words online like ‘solar homes’, ‘sustainable homes’, ‘green living’, ‘off grid homes’ and one page was always coming up no matter what I searched…….Earthship.com. I had heard about homes built in New Mexico out of tires and other recycled materials. I also remember instantly and ignorantly dismissing them as hippie nonsense. “That’s fucking stupid Frank!” I told the first person that told me about them.
Well, it’s now about 10 years later….. and I am now living that hippie nonsense on the New Mexico High Mesa Desert and building my own Bachelorship. (Came up with the name myself!)
But how did I get here? After I found the Earthship website, I started looking at everything differently. The tires we would cram into containers to be hauled off and recycled, they suddenly looked like a container full of building materials. The beer and booze bottles I would throw out while bartending, same thing. I didn’t know what to do with them, but I saw the possible value and use of these recycled or re-purposed materials. When I originally found the website it only consisted of few pictures on a simple website design. So it was hard to understand some of the components or systems involved with limited content. As technology moved forward allowing anyone to post a video or picture from the Earthship Visitor Center or Nightly Rental in Taos, NM to Youtube or Facebook. Instantly millions of people could see these images and videos. They can get a glimpse into these garbage homes and see just how amazing they are. If you get the chance to actual walk into an Earthship, you are definitely taken back by the comfort and beautiful finishes with in each home.
Once I found these videos I was hooked! It just screamed common sense responsible living, with no ‘sustainability buzz words’ needed. This was while I was attending school for Heating and Air Conditioning with a Renewable Energy emphasis in Eau Claire, WI. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the Renewable section of the program. We played with solar panels a little, watched a geothermal well get installed, monitored the geothermal systems temperatures and performance, mapped the winter/summer sun for solar, simple things. That’s when I realized I was attending classes for something I was starting to see we didn’t need to live comfortably. This was before I was really aware of fracking and the permanent damage it causes. Once I was, I knew I had to pursue this type of living. As Mike says in the documentary ‘Garbage Warrior’….
“I feel like I’m like in a herd of buffalo, and they are all stampeding toward a 1000 foot drop-off—and they’re just running over the edge. And I’m in that herd, and I’m like—I ain’t going there!”—Biotect, Michael Reynolds
So how do I avoid the cliff? Well, First I sold my car while going to college. I could and did ride my bike anywhere I needed to go. I should have never bought the car new in the first place, but I was being a good consumer…..right? So BOOM! There I was saving money, losing weight and starting to reduce my impact on the planet. I also started utilizing the bus system on rainy and blizzard days.
Shortly after that, I stopped going to fast food restaurants. I used to crush $.99 cent double cheese burgers and chicken sandwiches from the local Colonel, King, or Arches along the strip like it was nothing. Gave that shit up. (In all honesty; I was working at a bowling alley, so there was some cheating) I could tell I didn’t always crave that type of food as I reduced the frequency of eating it. This is still a battle for me, but I have come a long way. This encouraged me to start cooking for myself. I was working at a local Italian restaurant at the time as well, and would learn from the Chef and sous chefs. I also utilized the open air broadcasting for free Wisconsin Public Television and the Create network, great source of information. Now I was able to produce simple, healthy, restaurant quality meals on the cheap.
Once I got over the fear of cooking, discovering a sense of accomplishment preparing the new meals using previously foreign techniques. I started looking for local ingredients to use in my new cooking repertoire. Lucky for me a food co-op had turned into a grocery store called ‘Just Local Foods’. I couldn’t always afford it, though I supported them as much as possible (After a quick search I am happy to see the business is still going strong!). They always had a dynamite selection of local meats, cheeses, vegetables, beers and exotic fruits. Exotic fruits not so local, but it was an experience. I had my first sapote, or a Tarzan pudding pack as I called it, at Just local Foods. You let it ripen up good, cut in half, remove the seeds, put some fresh local cream in the shell with the meat of the fruit, stir it up and you have a Tarzan pudding pack! Now I am in a position where I can actually grow this and other unique fruits on the High Desert Mesa!
A friend and I had planned a trip to Denver for spring break in 2011. We were both going to school and working in the service industry, so this was also a ‘culinary’ visit. We picked out some high rated places to visit and really enjoyed what they had to offer. I also found and attended a renewable energy cocktail mixer. It was more ideas and tax incentive talk than actual self-reliance. I would hear things such as ‘well….if you grid tie your solar system, you get paid from the energy company and then you can claim it on your taxes under blah blah blah and dah dah dah‘. I get the appeal of these programs and encourage any use of solar as it takes strain off the grid, but you can be harvesting solar power all day and then the grid goes out because of an snow/ice storm we’ll say. Well, even though you have solar panels and have been charging all day during one of Colorado’s 360 days of sun, you are out of power too. Why? In most cases, if you are grid tied, you are not allowed to have a battery back up for your home. I just didn’t understand that and still don’t. This was another motivator to learn more about Earthships….but all good things come in time. I needed to finish school back in Wisconsin, I had to be patient……not my strong suit.
After completing my one year HVAC program I moved home for a short time before moving to Denver, CO. I boarded an Amtrak somewhere in Iowa with a suitcase, my tool box, $800, and a pocket full of dreams. The trip was extended because of heavy flooding and rerouting of rail traffic. I ended up in Denver 10 hours late and met my Aunt at the temporary arrival station as they were remodeling Union Station in Downtown Denver. I made a room in her South East Aurora basement home, found a job bartending, and started exploring Denver by bicycle. It was a 16 mile one way trip to downtown and took about 1.5 hours. I would occasionally take the light rail, but usually during inclement weather. In my opinion, Denver has an awesome public transportation set up and the bicycle path along Cherry Creek is like a 2 wheel interstate, with the occasional jogger or rollerblader.
This takes me up to the point of how I decided to keep pursuing the sustainable dream…… Coming Soon!