Life in Llano was physically hard but mentally refreshing. That’s the best word for it. Our minds seemed literally cleaned out by the mountain air, in touch only with the things closest around us, our fields and forests, our friends and our music. The inconveniences kept us in touch with the immediate. Crossing the acequia to use the outhouse in the dead of winter, wind howling across open fields of snow, required bundling up and a steely resolve. But I was so enamored with the newness of it all, that when I got out of the wind and looked across the field of snow to Picuris mountain, the spectacular view seemed worth it. It was the same with tedious tasks, say irrigating a field. I became mesmerized for hours in the intricate puzzle of getting water to every corner of an acre.
With no electricity, our only entertainment was what we made ourselves. Almost everyone played a musical instrument, at least something percussive, and we’d get together with our neighbors two or three times a week to share a meal and play music.
By the second spring, I had a better grasp on what needed to be done to bring in successful crops. Before I bought Sweetheart that summer, I hired someone with a tractor to plough another field at $42 an hour. I bought the seed, planted and irrigated and in the fall I had such a good crop of oats that I needed another tractor to cut, bail and thresh the oats. I had a good supply of feed for the winter at about twice the cost per bushel of buying oats from our local feed store. Which is why the Spanish farmers didn’t grow oats any more. Of course, my oats were organic.
I read about some amazing soil enhancement you could dig out of the ground on the other side of the Rio Grande. A soil additive called Humates was suppose help productivity by increasing the water-holding capacity of the soil, making it easier to till and providing a carrier of plant nutrients including trace elements. I spread it on the part of the front field that wasn’t used for our vegetable garden and grew a crop of alfalfa that even the Spanish admired.
To avoid the expense of having our fields plowed for cash, I bought a mule named Sweetheart and learned how to plow. For details, see my last post.
I had dropped to about 130 pounds by the second summer, and despite keeping my pockets full of nuts, dried fruit and cheese that I munched all day, I kept loosing weight. We were at the Hog Farm one evening when someone brought out a plate of raw elk meat sliced thin like beef carpaccio. They’d slaughtered an elk killed illegally out of season at dawn that morning. Without thinking, I reached for a slice and put it in my mouth. As I chewed and swallowed my whole body reacted, as if to a mild shock. Every cell seemed drenched in pleasure, screaming out for more solid protein. It was the end of my vegetarian phase. But we decided that if we were going to eat meat, we had to grow it ourselves. We bought piglets to fatten for the winter.
I’d grown a few discreet marijuana plants the first year. I put in a larger crop the second year and unfortunately it got noticed by local kids. Usually, by 9:00pm when the last chores were done, I had enough energy left to read for half an hour before falling asleep. But my diary notes that on July 2nd, I sat out behind the house with a shotgun across my knees waiting for the thieves who had visited my garden twice in the last week. Our dog Magnolia scared them off, but I thought they needed something more threatening.
The moon was full, but little light came through the black clouds as I huddled in the deep shadows of the house. I stared at the stunted apple trees where I expected them to appear. Short, stiff gusts of wind tossed the branches back and forth and a sprinkle of rain rustled the leaves. No one showed.
Four days later, on July 6th, fourteen lawmen ranging from a tough highway patrolman to long-haired kids from the Fish and Game Department, raided a neighbor’s house just up the road. We all went up to check it out. Most of the cops were waving rifles or holding them in readiness like the minute men at Lexington. They said they were on a sweep, hitting the Hog Farm first, eventually raiding seven communes that day. They were impressed by our neighbor’s clean house, impressive shop equipment and the general appearance of hard work.
“Your men must work real well,” one of the officers in command said to the woman of the house. “You should have seen the least place we raided.” After they found ten tabs of acid and a small bag of weed, they told her to come down to the Taos DAs office. They pushed a couple of men around but made no arrests. As they pulled out, they tossed an empty bottle of Jim Bean out the window of their long, black Cadillac. It landed, unbroken, in a lettuce patch.
On July 12th, my neighbor went down to the DA’s office in Taos. They threatened her with a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 to $1000 fine and up to three years in prison, but she pointed out that the search warrant was inaccurate and they let her go. Asked why they bothered with the raids, one officer said they had a tip that a big dealer was in the valley.
I finished the barn before winter, and we had a sizable paddock for Sweetheart and the goats. We had a good supply of milk and eggs. The pigs were fattening up nicely. There was little I missed about the Bay Area and mainstream culture. I thought I’d sloughed off city life forever.