Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Junkyard Dreams"

Cowboys! Scrape the shit from your boots before entering!

I'm reading a novel by Judith Jeanette Boyer called "Junkyard Dreams" set in and near Santa Fe during the height of the real estate bubble. Of course, the bubble burst and many people lost their homes in the crash. Some of them were our neighbors.

The real estate bubble in New Mexico was mostly confined to certain areas -- particularly to the tonier districts of Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque. Prices went up everywhere, but not to the extent they did in these fancy places, and not nearly as much as they did in Arizona, Nevada, and California, so when the crash came, the effects, while devastating to those who lost so much, weren't as widespread in New Mexico as elsewhere. We bought our home during the height of the bubble so we didn't get any sort of a bargain to speak of; yet our place has not lost much value. The recent appraisal for refinancing came in a couple of thousand dollars or so less than we paid to buy the property and renovate the ruined adobe house in 2005. According to the appraiser, historic houses in this area have held their value pretty well, and ones in decent shape like ours (though I think it still needs work) are selling at a premium. There is some comfort in that, but even if our place had lost much more of its value during the bust than it did, it would still be a welcoming home, and that's really the point of owning a home, isn't it?

The drought is causing much more widespread devastation than the real estate boom and bust cycle, and there is really nothing much anybody can do about it.

Yesterday, we had a taste of what is likely to come: a veritable dust storm, the first we have experienced in New Mexico. It wasn't like the Phoenix Habibs. There was no edge to it, no looming cloud of dust roiling over the landscape like a strange brown wave. Instead, there was a persistent strong cold wind, and the air just filled with dust lifted from the plowed fields in the area. The sky turned brown-gray and smelled strongly of the distinctive aroma of the local dirt.

Today, there is a thin layer of dust everywhere. Clean up will take a while.

This dust storm was predicted. There has been a lot of plowing throughout New Mexico to get ready for planting corn and hay and beans and chilis; the bare soil is easily raised into clouds of dust under the right wind conditions. There's been little rain or snow for years now, and the soil's scrub cover is very light where it exists at all. Dust is inevitable. Old timers remember with dread the dust storms of the 1950's drought, and they wouldn't be surprised if it gets that bad again. There is much muttering in town that we're headed that way.

The weather conditions in "Junkyard Dreams" are similar to the current drought, and I remember the earlier one during the bubble quite well. The trees on our place were badly stressed, and many of them have not recovered. It proved impossible to get anyone to come out here to trim the deadwood, though the electric co-op sends trucks out from time to time to make sure their power lines are clear of tree limbs, so some of the deadwood got cut that way.

My own chainsaw broke. I got a new one last year, but I didn't use it much before winter came on, so this spring, I'll be doing some fairly extensive tree trimming. It's been so long delayed.

We have a small greenhouse, and we put out seeds at the dark of the March moon. They're doing pretty well, but I had to bring them in because of the cold. Temperatures fell precipitously last night and we expect at least one more hard freeze by April before there actually is a spring to speak of, but with no rain, it's a little hard to anticipate whether anything we started in the greenhouse will actually grow once planted in the ground.

We haven't got our raised beds yet. Permaculture is still on the agenda, but managing it in the midst of a severe drought is something we haven't really thought through. Our remaining neighbors have not planted gardens for a couple of years now, in part because of the drought, but the farmers round about are preparing for what looks like a regular planting. One of them, in fact, has expanded his planting for this season. Of course, they'll use irrigation water when the rains fail.

We still have a feral cat colony, though there don't seem to be quite as many of them as there were when we were trapping them for neutering last fall. We counted 25 at that time; we were unable to trap one of them. Now the maximum we've counted is 19; usually, we only see 15 or 16 at a time. They love to stalk the local bird-life, but the birds are wary and smart. And they love to taunt the cats.

Another Sunday morning in high desert....


  1. I can't decide whether or not to reclaim my garden plot this year, Che. The problem here in Md is no pollinators. Two years ago, the next-door neighbor and I sadly pulled out tomatoes, squash, etc. and dumped them on the compost pile after it became apparent none were going to bear fruit. There had been no bees or butterflies all summer in anyone's gardens hereabout. Last year, I didn't bother and let the garden go to sod. The older gentleman next door tried tomatoes again and got perhaps two tomatoes off twenty plants. He said that was that for him. My aunt and uncle, who live about three miles from here and who live off their own produce, managed about a 1/3 normal harvest last year. (Funny, my uncle was complaining to me about the lack of bees - I told him about bee die-off and the lack of EPA action. He had not even heard of the problem. They are staunch Republicans and watch only Foxnews, or listen to Rush on the radio. After I talked about the issue for a few minutes, Uncle said that this was why the EPA should have their funds cut off entirely. Apparently, he seems to think the pesticide companies will voluntarily work to solve this problem they created themselves, after ignoring it all these years.)

    What is the point of trying to grow your own healthy food if it won't set fruit? Although I suppose the exercise is good for you....


  2. That's sad. I thought everyone knew about the bee population crash. It devastated some of the orchard crops in California. The saddest thing for me was seeing so many hive boxes just dumped by the side of the road or out in fields. But apparently bee populations recovered sufficiently, because I didn't hear any moaning about it before we left. The growers were probably importing bees from healthy populations.

    On the other hand, I don't really know what the pollinator situation is in New Mexico; I don't think I've ever seen a bee in the higher elevations, but there are plenty of hummingbirds!

    Meanwhile, your dilemma is mirrored in so many places because of whatever is killing the bees. The last I remember reading was that it was thought to be a nicotine based pesticide that the bees were vulnerable to at minute concentrations, ones that we're even measured in early tests.

    But whatever it is, obviously neither the EPA nor the chemical companies seem all that inclined to do anything significant about it. Well. Why should they, if ultimately the only ones who are "impacted" are home growers? See? Commercial growers can buy healthy bees, and I'm sure science is working hard on developing patent-able proprietary means of pollination, so that the mediation of creatures won't be needed. As long as you have the right plant stock and equipment. Replaced every season. You see? Simple.


  3. Here's serendipity for you, Che. I found a link to this article in my inbox this morning:

    The thing is, it's way more complex than "bringing in" healthy bees. With a 50% decline in the US, where do the healthy ones come from? The bee-keepers say there is not enough time each season to get around to all the areas with their healthy bees (most commercial crops depend on bee-keepers bringing the bee hives in on trucks, letting the bees do their thing and then moving on to the next area. Commercial growers depend on them, so it would behoove them to work on the problem. Unfortunately, the pesticide and fertilizer companies have more money and more clout with Congress.) Plus, they are losing so many that a lot of the keepers have simply quit the business. And bringing in bees from foreign countries does not work very well, since bees are acclimated to local conditions. (Kind of like how the settlers could kill Indians with diseases that white men tolerated passibly well.)

    You will note in the article that in the EU, they are experiencing recovery since outlawing the particular pesticides at fault. Here in the US, the EPA has delayed its research for years at the behest of Bayer, the major manufacturer of the pesticides in question.

    We have plenty of hummingbirds here, but the neighbor and I have never noticed them near the vegetable beds. He loves them and has plantings in his yard to attract them; we both get to reap the benefit of watching the pretty little things. But he himself pointed out last summer that they don't feed off the vegetables. (Maybe they would, but his honeysuckle vines are too tasty for them to forgo?) We do not see butterflies any more either. Plenty of wasps, all varieties, but they don't pollinate.

    Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club both have some good articles on the issue. I daresay we will be hearing more about it in the next year or two as the US continues to lose bees.

    I personally wonder how much effect cell towers, etc. have on the bees (interfering with their homing instinct) and what GMO crops will end up doing to them. Surely the pollen from GMO is going to change the genetics of the creatures that eat it. (? Just an idle speculation of mine.)

    I hope you keep us posted on how the garden grows as the spring and summer progress.


  4. Thanks for the link, Teri.

    I'm kind of puzzled by this kind of rhetoric, though: "The worst die-off in 40 years?" I don't recall a honey-bee die-off 40 years ago. Do you?

    I think what they may be getting at is that the honey-bee situation in this country and abroad continues to be dire, and the failure of the EPA to address it in a timely fashion is scandalous.

    I wish they'd say that directly.

    In other words, what it appears we are dealing with is gross corruption at the highest levels, corruption that involves allowing the bee die-off to continue in this country unabated indefinitely, even encouraging it. Somebody is profiting mightily from that.

    And it's not just Bayer selling its bee-poisons.

    Yes, you would think the commercial growers would be up in arms about it, and I know some are. But apparently not enough of them are. Is that because a sufficient number of commercial growers are able to acquire pollinators? I suspect it is.

    So long as the important people have what they want and need, the rest of us can pound sand.

    The EU appears to be addressing the problem with some success. Obviously then, it is solvable. But our rulers don't want it solved, do they?

    No, they don't.

  5. At this point, I say that our rulers, i.e., Congress and the administration, should be tried for treason. They no longer serve the good of the American people. They have chosen, deliberately and with malice aforethought, to serve a different clientelle, one which is bent on taking all the assets, land, and resources from the US public no matter the cost to that public.

    Period. I've had egoddamnednough.

  6. Agreed.

    Yours is about as succinct a statement about it as I've ever read.

    I'm sick of their excuses.

  7. Che,
    Sorry about the time delays in this conversation. I have the computer on for a couple of hours in the morning and then usually turn it off for the rest of the day. But I want to say that I have been thinking further about the bee problem because of your comments; you bring up points I had not considered.

    I know there is a lack of pollinators "in the wild" - I have seen that for myself. But you are right - the commercial growers must be finding a solution somehow, although what that solution is escapes me. But if the big farms were experiencing the 2/3 loss that Uncle and Neighbor and I have had recently, we would see the issue front and center. Furthermore, we'd be seeing bread lines. (Well, produce lines; apples and squash that cost $5 per, etc. Does wheat need pollinators?)

    So the big banks are hoarding money and maybe big ag is hoarding bees?

    I'm going to have to do more research, obviously. But it is a fucked up situation, for sure - our little truck gardens are not producing and that is about the only thing I can say with absolute certainty.


  8. The dogdamned Big Banks are part of the bee die-off around here. A few weeks ago, I called the apiary where I've bought honey for decades. They even had hives in the field next to my place then, and I could specify I wanted honey from those hives. John had been in the honey and bee business for years by then. (This was in the early 1970s.)

    When John retired, he passed the business on to his grandson, who had been running it since the mid-1990s. Because I buy honey by the 5-gallon bucket, I don't buy it that often. (That now lasts me 8-12 years; when we ran a cafe we'd buy that much every year. Honey doesn't spoil.) The last time I bought from them was in 2006.

    When I called, John Jr's wife told me they were no longer in the honey business... What??? How could this be? A thriving local honey producer? Been going for decades? Turns out the way they worked the operation was with yearly bank loans to finance buying queens and other necessities each year. Which they'd pay back every year. They trucked their bees to California to use as pollinators, as well as keeping them for local orchard pollination and honey production.

    Well, the local bank sold to a bigger bank, which sold off to a Big Bank. And in 2009 the Big Bank kept stalling about giving them the money they needed. Kept stalling and stalling. They'd call, and banker person said they weren't cleared yet. WTF? What was so different than what they'd been doing for years? Nothing. Except the bank. Then, it became too late to get the queens and get the hives going for the year. They lost all their bees. The bank stalled them to that point. They sat down and pencilled out the situation and realized, they'd essentially have to start all over. Couple hundred thousand bucks. They could no way afford to do this. So they closed shop and both had to find work. In a rural, farm-town area. In 2009.

    I was just shocked and furious. I asked which bank did that to them. Wells Fargo. Then we both got in a righteous dogdamned rant. She is still enraged and traumatized. Needless to say. Wells Fargo killed a local business. Now there is one honey producer left in the whole valley. A big, beautiful valley full of orchards and vineyards. Though many orchards are gone now, too. And the small banks.

  9. The both of you may well be on to something.

    I'm not one to think our rulers are all that smart, but they are devious and innately cruel. The banks in league with... interests... intent on limiting and controlling access to pollinators so as to ensure the dependence of ordinary people on the tender mercies of this or that cartel, sure... why not?

    Money for nothing, right?