Land Lover

Rick Suss Issue: Section:

“Sometimes, if I was snowed or mudded in, I even melted snow for water. It takes a lot of snow to get a little water.”


I arrived in Tres Piedras in 1993, having bought one acre bordering Kit Carson National Forest. Tres Piedras is a crossroads hamlet of indeterminate population, perhaps a couple hundred ranchers, loggers, off-gridders and sundry ner-do-wells. There is a post office, a ranger station and a closed diner and store/gas station. When I moved here there was an elementary school which has since closed due to lack of interest. The town is situated at the edge of the forest in the foothills of the Tusas mountains, a spur of the San Juan mountains in northern New Mexico. My land is on a rise between two draws that flood in spring, often leaving me stranded or wading to the road. It is covered with sage, scrub oak, pinon and juniper, with a few Ponderosa.
At first I camped out in my V.W. bus and cooked over a campfire. I began my residency with the help of friends with trucks, who I enlisted to haul pallets up from Taos. With these pallets I built a rough shack that I covered with the bark ends of planks from a local saw mill on the outside and scavenged barn wood on the inside. I roofed the shanty with rafters and tin from an abandoned shack at an old farmstead I found in the woods. Old homesteads are scattered around the forest, my yard is full of relics I've drug back.

I roughed it. There was no glass in the windows, just homemade shutters and doors. There was no electricity, only kerosine lamps and candles. There was no T.V.; I had a little radio, a stack of books and the fire to stare at. That fire, by the way, was in a stove I found at the dump, of course. With the invaluable help of my friend Rhett who camped out with me that first summer, I was ready for my first winter. We collected a huge pile of firewood about the size of my cabin after the local old timers filled me with stories of snow six feet deep and twenty below zero temps. Lucky for me the winter was pretty mild. I read the books, listened to the radio, kept the fire and did little crafty things. I carved a lot of pot pipes and little wooden things to sell in town to fill my rice bowl; mostly it was really rice, with some beans for flavor. Good old fashioned homesteading. Sometimes, if I was snowed or mudded in I even melted snow for water (it takes a lot of snow to get a little water). Why was I doing all this? Well, it was my place, it was rent free, I grew accustomed to the lifestyle, I did want to live a simpler life, use less resources and all that, but mostly, for all the seeming inconvenience, it was an easy way to live.

Summer came. I worked construction, building a straw-bale house. Thinking all the time about the coming winter, I added a 2x4 frame to the front of my cabin, covered it with plastic. Winter was much roomier as the sun room was very comfortable during the day. By the next year I had built straw-bale walls in place of the plastic, having my first permanent room. These days it is my kitchen, my bright sunny kitchen. The next winter (I came to measure time in winters as that seemed like the time I had to be ready for) I had built another pallet room off the back for a little bedroom. I had a three-room shack, small. Someone said it was like being in a boat, with every nook and cranny being used. I see that such tiny houses are coming into vogue in some places. I was cozy but had bigger plans. I built a new straw-bale room around my first shanty, built right around it and then tore it down from the inside. My living room. Straw-bale is great way to build. I made a post and beam frame with the bales stacked in between and pegged to the foundation by re-bar, covered in chicken wire and plastered. The effect is a sort of soft line similar to adobe. The garret became my bedroom, the pallet bedroom became a rudimentary bathroom, with a tub and drain and camp shower-bag anyways; I still used the outhouse. This was a roomier but still spartan existence; power and water were still off somewhere in the future. I caught some water in barrels, though I had to haul in drinking water. But the old farmhouse I was building was well under way. It comes complete with all the leaks pops and creaks that fill any old house. Some time ago I bought a solar panel and there was light, lights with switches, wow, then tv, then, well, that's about all. I got water piped in and put in actual bathroom fixtures, built another addition to the house. I now have two bedrooms, one bath, and the fixtures of modern life, hot and cold running water, a real kitchen stove to replace the Coleman camp stove I cooked on for years, a propane powered fridge, satellite T.V., a phone and computer.

Outbuildings grew up around me and a farm was taking shape.
I did meet a great and patient woman and her little boy, Pam and Jack Scout. We live here now on Blue Sky Farm. There are always projects afoot, a great sittin' porch and a sun room and a new barn with a couple miniature horses, chickens, ducks and geese, several dogs and cats and an array of changing animals, rabbits, fish a salamander that walked in one night - we kept him to show Jack and he's been with us for a couple years now. There are some fruit trees growing and a garden in summer. Wash on the line. The whole deal. Jack, born to be a farm boy I guess, likes the outhouse over the bathroom and the hydrant in the yard over a glass of water from the sink. We have ponds to catch frogs and go awadin' in. Pam, a marathon runner, has ranged far over the hills. And I still love few things more than walking in the woods with my dogs. Really it is a bucolic idyll, come to think of it.

We live in the country humble and modest ,but now, after nearly eighteen years, we have just another house, comfortable as an old soft shoe.

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