Spring, Summer, Etc.

Butterfly with Milkweed, Turkey Creek Cienega, Canelo, Arizona.

I started this blog post back in early July, my thought was to write something that would catch up on our spring and early summer activities.  Well, here we are, almost Sept and I’m just posting it now.  I’ve had to keep adding paragraphs to keep it up to date.

Spring and summer have found us busier than we’ve been in quite some time and obviously lacking the time to sit down and write something interesting. So………..I got to thinking, that after this post, I’m going to try something different for a change and do shorter and more frequent posts.

I don’t much care for month-by-month reports, but for now, I’m afraid that’s about my only option. Wow, I just counted and this post goes back 6 months, half a year. To begin, let’s go back to mid-March, the event – an Up With People Gala event at the University of Arizona ballroom black tie dinner.  Our job?  Get the kids from that fabulous high school folkloric dance group – Grupo Danza Xunutzi from the Rio Sonora Valley to the event several days early for rehearsals and host them in Canelo.  Like they always do, they somewhat stole the audience away from an impressive collection of talented performers.  For me the highlight was watching them meet and interact with cast members from all over the world. Old news by now, predictably, once again, these kids won the overall folkloric dance competition for the entire state of Sonora.

Grupo Danza Xunutzi having lunch with Up With People cast members from China.
The Girls of Grupo Danza Xunutzi on rehearsal break.

Related to news about the dance group, we were able to help two of the kids that graduated high school and the dance group last year attend a summer program that after an additional two summers will certify them as folkloric dance instructors qualified to teach in a variety of educational institutions.

Claudia Duron with Kalin on Turkey Creek Bridge

April is typically workshop month in Canelo.  We always start with our Comprehensive Straw Bale workshop and follow with a course called Artistry with Clay and Lime.  Workshops these days are a little smaller, the economy doesn’t really inspire building new homes, but always the quality of people that we get for participants is superb.

Workshop participant Miguel Sanchez with his plaster carving, carving on the right is by Athena.

May took us once again to Bluff, Utah for another round of plastering on the house where we have been working since February.  One more visit this September should finish it.

Family Plaster Session – Bluff, Utah.

At the same time I began work with old time friend, Gary Nabhan. on several different projects.  We took a trip together down the Rio Sonora in April, the main objective was to visit and photograph the partially restored historic flour mill in the town of Ures as part of a larger project that is dedicated to the revival of heirloom White Sonoran Wheat that will be available for the first time in three centuries.  In addition to a second trip that we made to western Sonora to photograph other historic mills in Oquitoa and Magdalena, I did a clay oven weekend workshop for Gary and his wife Lauri at their home in Patagonia, AZ.

Historic Flour Mill, Oquitoa, Sonora, Mexico
Clay Oven Workshop – Pre final plaster.

Gary also got me enrolled into a 3-day digital storytelling class taught by Bob Demers and Therese Perrault, a format that combines images/video with music and narration into a 3 to 4 minute personally moving story.  In short, it was humbling and challenging.  I quickly understood that creating a concise personal story is not an easy thing to do especially when trying to learn a new skill like narration, at which my first attempt is far from impressive.  Here’s a link to my first effort - //www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgBsoW8lSwg

On the way to lunch during the Digital Storytelling Class, El Minuto Restaurant 1933

The pre-monsoon month of June is usually catch-up time for any number of things around our property.  The list of maintenance items on the grounds and buildings can be overwhelming.  We have been extremely fortunate to have our friend Susan Rummerfield, recently returned from 20 some years living in France, taking care of the vegetable garden as well as keeping all the plants and flowers around our buildings in immaculate shape.  Afternoon walks provided a little leisure for photographing the small inconspicuous plants that seem to miraculously appear in the dry and hot month of June.

Canelo Project Garden, Summer 2012
Kalin Photographing Yerba del Manzo flowers with me.

During July we completed a project called the “Clayhouse” at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum where we are surrounded by abundant plant life everywhere.  The Arboretum’s summer program was called the “Dirt O Rama” and dedicated to the conservation and creation of top soils, making composts for soil improvement and and in our case, allowing families and their children to work along with us.  My first hand experience with arboretums is limited, but I would think that the Minnesota Arboretum is among the very best in the country.  Everything about it was splendid from the buildings to the library, the grounds and exhibits.  And the staff, some of the nicest and most helpful people we’ve encountered on our various projects.

From the Arboretum grounds.

We built a small round structure out of burlap bags filled with road base material and a casual and tiny reciprocal roof.  Filling the bags with damp dirt, tamping them solid, essentially makes an instant adobe brick that is ready to be plastered with the textured surface of the burlap.  Working along with us were teenager Catherine Gustafson from Tucson and mom Casey as well as Arboretum volunteer Nancy Guldberg.  And of course, endless kids, ages 2 and up joined us on a regular basis as well as parents and grandparents.

Athena and Catheine taking a popsicle break at the end of the work day.

The completed Clayhouse – Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Early August we hosted a workshop conducted by Gary Nabhan and Caleb Meyer in Canelo to create a Pollinator Hedgerow.  In essence, the idea was that of creating borders of locally adapted native plants to provide a food source primarily for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds to increase yields.

Early August took us Santa Fe, New Mexico and Santa Clara Pueblo, where like we do most years, help Athena’s mother and Aunt Tessie prepare for the Pueblo’s annual feast day on August 12.  For us, that mostly means helping prepare the food that is typically served at Aunt Tessie’s house in the center of the pueblo for all the friends of the family that have come to view the dances that take place throughout the day.  Like any of the brief paragraphs I’ve written above, feast day happenings make a great story by themselves, a few photos will have to suffice for now.

5 year old Emiliano (aka Skinny) participating in his first feast day dance, he’s the son of Athena’s nephew Porter.

We had an abundance of rain this summer in Canelo, the grasses are tall and the landscape a lush green.  It’s clearly a magical and special time of year when the dry and colorless landscape is magically transformed.  For this year, it was absolutely perfect for our son Oso’s wedding to his bride Alicia.  The August 18th wedding had a high of 78 degrees, just enough cloud cover to make it comfortable and no rain during a time period when it can rain furiously on a daily basis.  Without writing up a wedding story, for now, I’ll say that it was one of the most magical weddings I’ve been to, fun for all those who attended and very much in the same spirit of many memorable events that have taken place here at our home.

Canelo, AZ, our front yard, August 1

Part of our wedding crew, Benito, my son John, Kalin, Athena’s mother Rina, Arjuna (aka Oso) and bride Alicia.

This coming week we’ll receive master clay craftsman Takao Kobayashi from Japan for a workshop September 5-8.  He’s one of the most respected in this field in Japan and for us, an opportunity to learn new skills, share some social time with other friends dedicated to the same type of work.

Traditional Japanese Clay Ovens

Currently I’m finishing the final editing of photos of the heirloom White Sonoran Wheat project that will be a traveling exhibit that focuses on the revival of the wheat and the historic flour mills that were once part of a vibrant local, small-scale wheat economy.  The project, coordinated by Gary Nabhan and Maribel Alvarez will show throughout the fall in several locations, the first of which will be at the Tucson Meet Yourself festival, the weekend of October 15.   I’ll keep you posted when more details are available.

“Molino Harinero” or historic flour mill, Ures, Sonora, Mexico
Native Seed/Search Fields, Patagonia, AZ – heirloom White Sonoran Wheat




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  1. WOW! What synchronicity. 😀 Yesterday my issue of Heirloom arrived and I inhaled the article on White Sonora wheat written by Gary Nabhan. Dr. Nabhan is one of my all time favorite author’s and was teaching at NAU while I was a grad. student there. Although I was not in the sustainability program (elementary education was my field) I did attend a few of his workshops. When I told him I owned and had read nearly all of his books he generously gave me a few more that I didn’t have. I am very interested in the White Sonora wheat, and as a bread baker, am hoping that someday I will be able to get some to try for myself. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed your long post (I have missed seeing you here in blogland for these past months) and will look forward to your continuing posts in the future.

  2. BTW – I nearly forgot to tell you that I also have all of your straw bale house books. Perhaps someday I will actually make it to one of your workshops on straw bale building. Perhaps someday I will have my tiny straw bale home. 🙂

  3. Always look forward to getting your updates. Been very busy building our earthship, but will always take the time to enjoy the rich tapestry that you share with us, be well.

    • Congratulations to Oso and Alecia. (as well as their parents) That is very exciting news. I remember him as a little person. I guess when you keep feeding them they keep growing up.
      Fortunately Oso was fed with not just food but wisdom as well.

      Hope to see you all before to long.

      Jim Furness

  4. Always, always such a pleasure to see a new post. I greatly appreciate your ‘priorities’ in life and the interests and stories and photos you share. Muy simpatico. So many diversions here, but at some point, I need to come and see — you make your trans-border life inspiring and real… nice vid too and good to know you have a channel. BTW, you can shorten the YT link if you wish: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgBsoW8lSwg
    will yield the same video (snip the url just before the first ?).
    Now, I need to see the rest. Nice!

  5. I was just reminiscing about the magical times I came to your winter celebration event, and how deeply peaceful it was sleeping in a straw bale home. Looked up your website and voila, you have an action-packed blog post to bring me somewhat up to date. It’s hard to register the changes, looking at the photos of Kalin (wasn’t he just a babe in arms?!) and Oso. Still wondering when my straw bale home will emerge. Blessings to you and Athena.

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