Wednesday, February 17, 2010


In many cites around the US and in many countries, the vision of the Fullers’ provides houses for those who can’t afford them. We the volunteers build, and the homeowners build right along side us. The homeowners pay back into HFH on a no interest loan, which buys the materials for the next house as well as funding the administrative expenses. Many of the volunteers are local people, but someone realized there was a mobile population of retirees that might like something useful to do, and started the RV Care-a-Vanner group. We are given a free (sometimes) full hook up camp spot for 35 hours of work a week and also doughnuts!

I’ve always had a hankering to do this since helping out during some rally at a build site, and when my job prospects all flew away, it occurred to me to give it a try. (or I listened to He who organizes my life…)

The camp spot is a parking lot in the middle of Las Cruces, and all the slots are filled with RV’s. Most of the people here have done many builds, and some in many places. The skill level varies along with the stamina, but everyone is cheerful, and helpful. If you read the website, you know that the Fullers were rich and unhappy in Atlanta and gave it all up for a Christian commune. There they developed the idea, and when Jimmy Carter helped with a build, HFH grew quickly.

Me, I am stiff and sore and my knees are tired of ladders, but I’m having a wonderful time and hope I can stay longer than next Sat. If not, I will be looking to do this again. There is a whiff of protestant earnestness; we begin the day with some sort of prayer. That’s fine, although the first week a woman read a lot from the Bible, and a daily lesson book and then her husband gave a long and hesitant prayer. It seemed too long and made assumptions about the rest of us that I found mildly irritating. So yesterday I jumped in and talked about Jesus, who as God could just make a chair in an instant, having to learn the fundamentals of carpentry from his father. Perhaps a few splinters and bad saw cuts were a way to be more human. This was met with much approval, so I guess others were as tired of too much institutionalized holiness as I was.

The second week is slow, we were way too efficient at putting up the sheet rock, and now have to wait until the professional mudder/taping crew is done, and the wall texture people, and we may get to paint on Friday. I’m sort of hoping someone will cancel so I can stay on.

Las Cruces has a magnificent mountain range to the east, the Organ Mountains. Good toothy profiles and a nice icing of snow. On Sunday I went geocaching on the western side of town where there is a slight rise and I drove up to see the whole city spread out with the mountains beyond. My geocaching was hampered by the recent rains which flooded two caches away, and by Darth Vader’s increasing starting difficulties. He is now at the truck Dr. getting a new alternator and starter motor. Ouch said my wallet, but he is due for these things, and deserves them. Once again, I managed to find a diesel truck lover to fix him

The Rio Grand runs right through here, and has been tamed to water 100’s of acres of pecan trees. (Actually, a lot of the water was taken out up stream already, the Rio Grand in Big Bend only has Mexican water in it.) The trees are planted in strict geometry, so driving through them is a little dizzying, and the ground beneath is swept absolutely clean. Why such tidiness? Harvesting pecans is an amusing process because picking the nuts is done by a giant machine with a giant hand that grabs the trunk of the tree and shakes it! Then giant sweepers drive up and down these tidy lanes picking them up off the ground. After that they go though some sort of sorting and cleaning. All this is done in the late fall, but this year’s rains have made the ground too muddy for the machines. I saw a video of the tree shaking and sweeping, but would love to see it all first hand. I’m a big fan of seeing how machines take over tedious agricultural work, especially when it duplicates human actions in an amusing way.

I have rarely been in a place where everyone is as nice as can be. We are here to do good, not to show off, (although the guys do a little bush peeing over who knows more about construction). Somehow, being warm and polite to each other is in the air, actively in the air. It remains to be seen if this flavor comes from the folks in charge here, this particular set of workers, or if all HFH centers are like this. “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day”. It’s good for me, as my tendency towards sailor-like language is in check even with the most stubborn sheet rock screw.

It turns out that I can stay another two weeks. There is a sort of extra spot right by the office that I have squeezed into. I like to think I have been useful, but they may also feel a little sorry for poor Daisy all by herself.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Carlsbad Caverns

This part of west Texas is called the Permian or Delaware Basin, it was surrounded by a coral reef when everything was a warm sea. The sea went away, the reef rose up and left a ring of limestone mountains. The Guadeloupe Mountains, the Franklin Mountains, Glass Mountain, all the remains of this reef, and tucked under the Guadeloupe Mountains are the enormous caverns called Carlsbad.

There are tours, some strenuous, but I took the standard walkway tour, through the Hall of the Giants, Fairyland, the Big House. The interior space is like a Gothic cathedral, sound carries in that cathedral way, and it is dimly lit as though by candles, and everywhere the limestone comes down in drips and sheets. Tiny apses filled with stalactites and straws, and huge columns like cauliflower or the Hindu temple columns that are covered with figures and animals.

Since it is off season now, there were very few people down there, 800 feet below the surface, and it was wonderfully quiet. The recent rains had percolated down through the rock and there were drips everywhere. Starting new columns, filling up the pools with limestone lily pads around the edges, and trying to start cave growths on the tarred walkway. It was most excellent.

After that I drove a loop over this ridge and down into the canyon. The rocks are crumbly, eroded and cracked and lots and lots of cactus and yucca and succulents cover the walls. Desert, dry, prickly, the greens soft and pale, the rocks weathered in browns and umbers.

I would like to come back here and explore more, when it’s not so cold.

Back down to Pecos, I’m still fascinated by the nodding pumps:

“Pump Jack also known as 'nodding donkey, oil derrick, pumping unit, horsehead pump, beam pump, sucker rod pump (SRP), grasshopper pump, thirsty bird and jack pump) is the overground drive for a reciprocating piston pump installed in an oil well. “(Wikipedia)

They are a version of a beam engine, often used for pumping, often run by steam in the old days, and the counterweight, flopping at its feet, extends the power, usually from electricity. I think I remember that they are set to sense when the oil below has seeped back into their shaft, so they can start sucking it up through the complicated system of tubes and valves.

Truthfully, I secretly think they are alive in some somnolent, ancient way. The metal of their bones, cables and tubes distilled from spirits lodged in the ore, and they sip away at the oil that was grasses and seaweeds and ferns long ago. They are the only moving thing in this vast flat place inside the ancient coral reef.

Back at the campground in Pecos, I am getting antsy. I want to be building stuff, to have something to do. I’m heading for NM, one more night and then I pull into the Habitat for Humanity lot and get to work.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pecos, TX

Pecos Bill. The wildest cowboy of them all. He rode a horse called Widowmaker, and sometimes a cougar, and finally a tornado. Now there was a rider, yesiree, and he used a rattlesnake for a lariat, and generally was tougher than anyone or anything. He had a lady friend named Slu Foot Sue (did she have a club foot ??), who on her wedding day decided to ride the great horse Widowmaker. He bucked her off so high she banged her head on the moon, what a ride! and she bounced on her bustle like a bungee jumper until Bill lassoed her.

Alas, not a tale invented by the cowboys around the fire on the long drive north from Texas, but fakelore, written by one Edward O'Reilly in 1916 for The Century Magazine, pretending to be stories he had collected. Still it’s nice to imagine those incredibly tough men yarning away an evening under the stars while the longhorns rested.

I drove northwest from Fort Stockton across a great flat expanse of dirt and rocks and the short wiry shrubs that some how survive out here. The only things to see were the dinosaur oil pumps, some bobbing away, and their attending tank farms and pipelines. I saw one corral, but not a creature of any kind until I passed one big dairy farm out in the middle of all this, with the big irrigating sweeps, and piles of hay and the cows lying down to get out of the wind. Nothing for 60 miles. Not a cloud in the blue, blue sky, and off to the west, the Franklin Mountains. They aren’t all that big and they are very far away, but still my heart gave a leap of joy to see them. Mountains!

As I drove into the wind, I wondered how they could have moved their cattle across this, nothing to eat, nothing to drink. Hot, dusty and pestered by flies and the ceaseless wind. I guess the great cattle drives only lasted a few decades, but they brought up from Mexico the culture of horsemanship, rope tricks and the secrets of moving wild cattle. And a mystique, a uniquely American culture that still permeates the west in dress, logos, designs on all sorts of things. A love affair with the horse and the wide open spaces. And my favorite part of the romance, no body cares about your lineage, your money or your education or your class. Probably that really isn’t true, but it is in my fantasy.

The wind is still pretty strong, and although it will be in the 50-60 range during the day it sure feels cold. Tonight it’s going down to 27, so I’m all wrapped up again.

I’m at another Escapees Park, a jolly club of folks who enjoy this lifestyle and do what they can to make it easier and more fun for folks who want to do it too. The park itself is only marginally nicer than the parking lot in Fort Stockton, but there is a laundry which I will need.

I went over to the Ice Cream Social, just to see who’s here and find some company. We sat and ate our ice cream and traded stories of how we came to hit the road. One couple lost their house to Katrina and never looked back, another lady is soloing in a huge motor home, widowed after 53 years. It was decided that as cold as it is, that global warming is unlikely, and one lady said she heard that Jesse Ventura ( ex pro wrestler, ex governor of Minnesota) has studies to prove it isn’t real and that the whole thing is a hoax for Al Gore to make money from. She added that there is a satellite in Alaska that will control our minds. (owned by Sarah Palin?). I had to look away and bite my tongue. I soon excused myself, but I did get some nice ice cream.

I had thought to go up north of Carlsbad NM, visit the caverns, and look around, but it will snow or ice up there tomorrow, so I’m staying here and will just drive up to the caverns.