Saturday, October 29, 2011


THIS WEEK I AM IN ARIZONA, southeast of Tucson and close to the border. The melancholy task is to bid thanks and goodbye to the nearby grantees of The JM Kaplan Fund: Malpai Borderlands Group; the Rancho El Uno project of The Nature Conservancy, Mexico; the Janos research station of the Instituto de Ecología of the National University of Mexico; the Northern Jaguar Project; and the joint effort of World Monuments Fund and Instituto Nacionál de Arqueología e Historia to inventory, repair and protect a long-undiscovered network of cliff villages in Chihuahua. Wonderful people, important work. But after eight years of support and twelve months of plummeting stock holdings, the trustees of the Kaplan Fund have decided to offer the groups "farewell grants" to carry them twelve months past the expiration of their current awards. Sad but fair.

The upside is that I can pay another visit to a favorite landscape and a wonderful cross-border culture. And my base of operations is ideal for appreciating both. I am with Athena and Bill Steen, in a guest house of their Canelo Project. The Steens are probably the most widely-recognized leaders of the home-built-house movement in general and straw-bale construction in particular. [Check out their books – Small Straw Bale; Built By Hand; The Handcrafted Life of Don Juan Morales – all available on Amazon.] Canelo Project workshops draw colleagues and students from around the world, and each workshop produces at least one durable structure. The result is a hamlet of lovely small buildings, each serving a different function, each shaped and colored distinctively. In between workshops a small number of students stay on as resident interns, joining a year-round crew of the Steen teenagers (woodworker and metalsmith, repectively) and Don Juan Morales, on permanent loan from a village near Ciudad Obregon. Don Juan knows how to do anything, eg, make rope, dress game, distill beverages. The resulting mix is bilingual, multi-ethnic, creative and – most impressive of all – resourceful and skilled little community. Lots of Canelo and Borderlands photos here and here.

On Friday, it's off to Chicago and a Board meeting of The Land Institute, Wes Jackson, President. Perennialize the landscape! Transform agriculture! More on all that later.

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