Archive for May, 2010


country club life

Improvements are being made by the homeowners’ association here at Terlingua Ranch. A new board was elected, the corrupt (and now former) executive director has been fired and replaced, and the lodge is in the process of being reopened after almost two years of closure due to financial mismanagement and malfeasance.

On a practical level, this means the swimming pool, showers, laundry, and four guest cabins have been reopened (with more to come after remodeling). Three potential operators are competing to reopen the restaurant at the lodge under a lease arrangement.

The association’s troubles began when former members of the board of directors decided to refocus the lodge on serving tourists rather than benefiting the property owners, which had been the original reason for establishing the lodge in the first place. Now it is more correctly focused on the property owners again, and as a result, we will probably save a couple thousand dollars a year in gas due to saved trips to town.

Yesterday Paul and I went up to the lodge to do our laundry and sit by the pool while waiting for the washers and dryers to cycle. The homeowners’ association was coincidentally hosting a poolside barbecue for residents, the food was excellent, and the company was pleasant.

As we sat at the pool watching kids splashing and playing against the magnificent mountain backdrop, I reflected on what an improvement in our standard of living these changes will make. Sitting there, I was reminded of my own youth and the countless hours I spent at our country club pool. When Derek returns next month, I know he will be delighted to be able to swim whenever he wants to. More than once last year, he bemoaned the fact that there was nowhere to swim besides the distant and remote swimming hole now owned by Brad.

As I thought about the young people who may come in the future to live with us at Estrella Vista, I could not help but think that for some of them this might be a dream come true, a small taste of pleasures missed yet still possible in their lives.



Yesterday I met a man named Brad and his two sons Justin and John at the Grub Shack who, I was relieved to learn, are not tourists.

This guy lived in Minneapolis for many years and boats out of South Haven, Michigan, and now lives near Chicago—all places where I have deep ties. He fell in love with the Big Bend and last year bought a quarter-section which includes a popular swimming hole at Agua Fria. (This is the same place where Paul and Derek saved an older couple from drowning last summer.) As long as people do not abuse the place, he says, he’ll continue to allow public access to it. I liked hearing Brad thinking this way. Maybe we will become friends.

If he and his sons had been tourists, I doubt that becoming friends would be a possibility. Tourists are valued out here as a source of business and economic gain, but beyond this, I don’t have much use for them. Our local economy is based on tourism, but it is a turn-off to me that so many people come here wanting to do things that maybe they would not dare to do at home.

When the tourist season is at its height and Paul returns from a night at one of the bars in town, he almost always tells me stories of tourists approaching him with propositions of kinky sex. Whereas Paul is amused by this and usually plays along just long enough to learn exactly what outrageous acts they have in mind, were such an unlikely thing to happen to me (Paul’s 30 years younger and at least 100 times better looking), my reaction would be immediate and negative. No, not because of the idea of kinky sex (always intriguing), but because these touristas are takers who will use and consume and abuse anything or anyone out here to satisfy their selfish desires while on vacation from personal responsibility.

The only things most tourists leave behind are cash and trash. Some, however, do leave their hearts here. Brad might have been a tourist at first, but is no longer (if he ever was one).

We could be friends.


saturday chores

Today the man from Child Protection Services may show up with his family in tow, and this evening Val is coming over for another movie night. So the house must be in presentable shape and suitable for providing hospitality to visitors. I will keep this short because low tasks like sweeping, dusting, tidying, etc. must be completed in time to create positive first impressions.

Every time I dust in the house, I contemplate what an ultimately futile task dusting is out here. On the desert, indoors and out, we live with dust constantly. People who are very anal about their environments passing the white glove test would not do well here. I have found the best you can do here is create the illusion of cleanliness. Tidiness trumps cleaning almost every time except in matters of food preparation and hygiene.

I still remember Derek’s slack-jawed shock at our primitive living conditions when he first arrived. I had tried to prepare him by explaining its rusticity, but the reality didn’t sink in until he experienced it for himself.

“Derek, the best way to understand our lifestyle is ‘year-round camping,’” I said. “Think of Estrella Vista as a base camp. In time it will become more comfortable, but only just barely. Big parts of life here will be lived outdoors and under canvas.”

It’s a good thing that he quickly grew to love the life out here, spending hours each day hiking alone into the mountains and arroyos, soaking in the numinous, healing, restorative, creative power of the land. I’m looking forward to Derek’s return in July.

Anyway, I have an arm-long list of tasks and chores to complete and must cut this short. I hope you have a great Memorial Day weekend.

Remember the ancestors.



I went to bed last night not having any idea what I would tell you about today, but had the thought that the subject would reveal itself first thing in the morning. I then happily read by flashlight until about 2:00 am (I’m reading John Grisham’s The Client and comparing the novel to the movie screenplay—interesting).

This morning an e-mail was waiting for me from Kathe Murphy, Holly’s best friend, about whom I wrote in “The Magic Ring.” I had shared a picture with her of the boy whose availability for adoption had spurred me to action.

“Does he remind you of anyone?” I had asked her.

“This child definitely has Holly features,” she said. “And your paths are crossing.”

She then related from her teaching experiences how difficult it is reaching troubled kids today, so absorbed as they are in personal electronics and texting, and some of them so damaged by their life experiences. “Now is a way different world. Be careful here.

“I do believe what is meant to be will happen,” she advised. “Keep looking into it.”

So it was not just my imagination when, as I studied this boy’s picture and wondered why I should have “recognized” him at first glance, it finally hit me: If Holly and I had had a biological child, a boy, he would likely have looked like this one. And now Kathe has confirmed it.

Knowing that she is ever present for me, I have learned to be watchful for Holly’s interventions in my life, some of them subtle and others not. Whether Holly just sent me this child’s image to get me to act on the Wandervogel Vision at this time or whether Fate is sending me the child himself, only time will tell.



Since yesterday afternoon I’ve been refreshing my memory, re-reading parts of books in preparation for a phone call at noon today with a man from BBC radio. He first contacted me on Monday, but we could not get things scheduled until today.

He wants to know about the Wandervogel and what we’re doing here with their ideas. Based on what he has already told me, I think he wants to know how the Wandervogel ideas first migrated to America, became part of the DNA of the hippie movement of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, and survive today in our New Age culture.

I know how I first learned about the Wandervogel—in East Africa from a young vagabond who spent just one night at my house—but that is not what this journalist wants to learn about. He wants to hear how these ideas came to America before I was even born. So I have been reading and preparing.

The key person in this story is a young man named Bill Pester. He was born in Saxony, Germany in 1886. (The Wandervogel movement was started nine years later in 1895 near Berlin when Bill was nine.) By age fourteen Bill was most likely part of a pack of Naturmenschen who roamed Germany as the vagabonding of the Wandervogel grew in popularity, and it is certain that Bill and his companions became steeped in Wandervogel ideals and influences during this time.

Bill was educated in Germany until 1906 when he was 19 years old, and then he left Europe to escape military service. He came to America and worked his way across the country to California. He lived in a log-and-palm hut, built with natural materials from the surrounding terrain, on Cahuilla Indian land in the mountains near Palm Springs.

Just look at this guy. This photograph was taken in 1917. It could just as well have been taken just yesterday here in Terlingua. There are at least a dozen guys around here—river guides and old hippies—who look and live like Bill. Women, too.

He was a creative and industrious outdoorsman, writer, and musician whose friends and visitors included Rudolph Valentino and other luminaries of the day. He brought with him Lebensreform ideas from Germany, which included vegetarianism, nudism, natural medicine, abstinence from alcohol, clothing reform, etc. Bill was one of the first to introduce these ideas to Americans and became a mentor to a group of young men who became known as the  “Nature Boys.” With their long hair, beards, and white robes, the Nature Boys became the model in the 1920s for the cartoons one sees ever since of Christ-like street-corner prophets holding “end-of-the-world” signs.

But Bill wasn’t proclaiming the end of the world. His message was, in his words, that, “man was intended to live in a state of nature. All man’s troubles, sickness, anxieties and discontent comes from a departure from nature. I would advise you to go back to nature, if you want to be cured; give up your extravagant habits, your high-priced hotel life, quit taking medicine and discharge your doctor.”

Bill’s ideas and lifestyle were modeled by the Nature Boys, and later, by the originators of the beat and hippie movements in the following decades.

One of the Nature Boys was a young man named eden ahbez (he never capitalized his name, believing that capital letters should be reserved for the Diety), a Brooklyn NY orphan who hopped freight trains and walked across America to California, where he met Bill, who was 23 years his senior and probably the most influential person in his life. Eden was a poet, composer and songwriter who wrote the famous standard, “Nature Boy,” which was based on Bill. Nat King Cole made the song hugely popular in 1948, and it has been performed ever since by artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Celine Dion, Cher, and David Bowie.

When the songwriter of Nat King Cole’s monster hit was discovered by the media, he was camped out with his wife and son beneath one of the Ls of the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, subsisting on wild fruits and nuts. It created a sensation, and eden was featured on the covers of the major news magazines of the day.

See and hear Nat King Cole performing “Nature Boy.”

It is so astonishing for me, an American, to have been contacted by a major European news organization to throw some light on a piece of near-forgotten European history that has had a mighty yet generally unrecognized impact on modern culture. It is a weighty responsibility. The legacy of thousands of idealistic young people, now long dead, will be momentarily in my hands.

I hope I do them justice.


long shot

Yesterday I spent enough time on the phone with social workers to learn that, although this particular boy is still available for placement, it is an extreme long shot that he would eventually be placed with me.

The problem is timing. Before I could be approved for a placement, I must attend three months of classes and have a home study completed—a process taking at least six months and probably more. We would also have to complete the build-out of two bedrooms before our accommodations would be adequate for a passing home study. It is likely this child will be placed before my end of things could be completed—but miracles of fate can still happen.

Yet, as I predicted, the recruiter from Child Protective Services in El Paso was all over me. When I told him it is my intention to add more young people to my family and leave Estrella Vista to them so that each individual’s control will reflect his or her contributions, he said, ”Oh, wow.” I explained that I am in my early sixties and that a young teen needs more than just a promise from me that ‘I’ll be here for you as long as I’m alive.’ For me, this would put more teeth into the concept of “Forever Families.” There is a chance the recruiter will visit Estrella Vista even as early as this weekend.

There’s no going back now. The toothpaste is out of the tube.


door no. 2

Yesterday one of my best friends called to tell me that a biopsy taken from a lump in her breast is malignant. “The doctors are dealing with this with a great sense of urgency,” she said with alarm.

I didn’t say so, but I remember the drill. The doctors admit you right away and begin their ministrations before you can even take any time to think. They deliver the dreaded news, often not well, and then what time you do have to think is smothered in panic and fear.

You then immediately begin a dreadful course of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery—whatever combination, sequence, and severity the doctors can justify with their studies. And through it all, you never have time to think, to question the basic premise underlying all the drugs, treatments, procedures, hospitalizations, and the steady flow of our national wealth into the Nation’s health care and pharmaceutical industries.

But you don’t care about that. You’re scared as hell. You want to live. There is so much unfinished business. You want to see your children grow up. The doctors say you have no chance without their brutal treatments. “We’re getting better results today than we even thought possible just five years ago,” they say.

The dominance of allopathic medicine is so great that you don’t even consider that there may be other alternatives to the door being held open by your doctor.

I told my friend to be sure and find out how fast- or slow-growing the tumor is. This will provide evidence to suggest how much time one has to think and plan and embark on a healing process that is informed, rational, and appropriate and not confounded by panic and fear.

When Holly’s cancer was diagnosed, we took Door No. 1, the one held open by the medical doctors, and immediately passed a point of no return. We thought we were doing the right things, but we really had no idea of what we were doing. We had completely missed Doors No. 2 and 3.

Now I remind you this all happened nineteen years ago, before the Internet had become the information resource that it is today. Alternatives to allopathic medicine were to us a blur of competing claims, hopeful stories, word-of-mouth rumor, and outright quackery. We had no working theory of health with which to evaluate evidence and make sense of the blur.

Today I know that Door No. 2 (had we been able to see it) has a sign on it which says, “Body Heal Thyself.”

Exploration behind this door reveals that the human body can be stimulated to regenerate and heal itself through certain practices. Hyperbaric treatments appear to be one such practice. The ingestion, vaporization, or topical application of hemp oil is another. Ingesting wheatgrass juice is another. These practices, among others, are claimed to be cancer cures. They have produced dramatic and timely effects with a minimum discomfort, negligible risk, and only benign side effects, if any. And, unlike Door No. 1, these practices always afford the opportunity to change your mind and choose another door if you do not see the results you want.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think this should be the first door taken if time permits and a malignancy is not so fast-growing that a month’s delay would make any difference.

If you tell your M.D. why you’re delaying, he or she is not likely to be supportive of your decision to go slow and first try some non-radical alternatives. Your doctor will tell you the tried-and-true way is to knock the cancer down hard and fast with massive, invasive strength that will brutalize your body. Medical shock-and-awe.

I say that your body first may need some coddling and encouragement to do its thing (which it can do) and reject this freakish lump (which you have found in time). I say that your mind needs some time and quiet to center itself, banish all fear, anger, and self-blame and, in the meantime, be creative and see if some comparatively gentle practices can ameliorate the symptoms or even coax a remission.

Here are some web addresses where you can find information about the practices I’ve mentioned which appear to stimulate the body’s self-healing:

Hyperbarics: and

Hemp Oil:


Become informed. Take your time. Do not be rushed into decisions or make them out of fear. Take control of your own health and tell the doctors what to do.

Remember they are experts only behind Door No. 1, and ignorant and dismissive of other doors. (I continue to be amused by their dismissal of the cause of improvement in my own circulatory health and their inability to explain why my visual acuity has improved fifty percent.)

I wish I had discovered Door No. 2 in time for it to have helped Holly, but that was not to be. Yet it may help you if you will only try it.

And Doors No. 3 and up? I know they must exist, but I haven’t seen them yet and cannot even guess what may lay behind them.



It is so interesting to observe the patterns of life and time. Things really do happen in waves. Periods of roiling activity followed by periods of quiet, time after time, when observed over long enough periods of time become predictable, reassuring, calming. The mood, direction, and events of the times can be foreseen and prepared for. One is less frequently taken unawares.

Paul’s frequent news reports about the magnitude of the oil rig spill, the depths of depravity of Wall Street operators, population-killing levels of depleted uranium contamination in the Middle East war zones, frequency and severity of earthquakes, the debasement of our money, and numerous other catastrophic events don’t even faze me.

Everything in the world keeps changing. Things never stay the same. If you cling to the past it can drag you under, like the last guy hanging onto the Titanic’s stern rail who couldn’t raise the nerve to jump. I remember reading someplace that a characteristic of vital people with great longevity is having an ability to let go of people, things, and ideas—to experience loss—without becoming demoralized.

For me, the key has always been to fill the voids of loss with creative acts. To be dedicated to the Creative Force that every individual has inside himself… which I feel inside of me.

When Paul returned from Marathon yesterday and I told him about having made the adoption inquiry, his only question was, “Can you afford to have another person here?”

I have been living as I do—freelancing without a job—for almost thirty years. Holly and Henry never wanted. I have the satisfaction of having achieved many worthwhile things.

“I have never been able to afford anything else I’ve ever accomplished,” I answered him.

I bought our longtime Minneapolis home when I was a 28-year-old unemployed kid, after all. Since then and even before, the money has never come first, but always after I’ve committed to doing something.

I have been staring at this 13-year-old boy’s picture all weekend, thinking about the practical realities of being primarily responsible for a child’s welfare and preparation for life, and I am convinced this is a good, necessary, and possible thing for me to do—if not for this particular child, then for some other (and, possibly, others).

I have been preparing for this for years through my research, writing, and youth advocacy activities. Present here are the elements of a coherent youth development framework, our Wandervogel vision, based on natural principles.

Taking on a bright child with emotional problems, helping him get in sync with natural time and cycles, providing a healthy, stable, safe, and supportive home life, helping him to educate himself and learn practical skills suited to his particular talents and interests, helping him to see and predict the future and find his place in it—this we will be uniquely able to do well here.

I feel calm about this.

A man from BBC Radio has just contacted me asking to learn about what we are doing here at Estrella Vista with our Wandervogel vision, so I must cut this posting short and talk to him.

Yes, this is the time to take in our first child. I am sure of it.


beach report

I first fell in love with Estrella Vista because, curiously enough, it reminds me of an ocean shore home. The place has a feeling of “beachness” to it. The same “sea breeze” is now blowing through the living room windows as did on my first visit here when I sat chatting with Josie in this marvelous and mysterious mud-and-stone room. I was bewitched at the time and am still now.

Many other people comment on the land’s ineffable seashore quality, so I know it is not just my imagination at work. There are seashell fossils all around to prove they are, in a very real sense, correct. The place was all shallow ocean bed millions of years ago.

When I was a kid we spent many of our summers at Lake Michigan, and Estrella Vista is a daily reminder of those happy times and experiences.

It is a clear and crisp morning with temperatures in the high 70s. I am going to take a short hike before the day heats up—and it will, probably into the 90s.

I’m playing neo-Merseybeat rock and roll on the radio. It reminds me of the ‘60s. I’ll prepare brats on the grill. Maybe listen to some old Beach Boys songs later on.

I can keep this feeling going all day long.



It is a fresh and sunny Saturday morning, and I have slept in. Paul rode up to Marathon yesterday with Linda, and Clint will bring him back tomorrow. The animals and I have had the place to ourselves since late morning yesterday.

Blessed silence and freedom! An interlude for doing anything you want!

I’ve fed the kittens and the roosters, brewed a pot of coffee, washed the dishes, and have now sat down here wondering if I should have my head examined?

Paul will think twice before ever leaving me alone again.

Yesterday I was researching the topic of non-traditional families, and I found a 13-year-old kid on an adoption site whose profile suggests he is dreaming about a place like Estrella Vista, and maybe Estrella Vista itself. If you read between the lines, you can get an idea of why this good-looking kid is “hard to place.” It struck me that most of what the social workers saw as deficits could be assets here. Based on the little that could be revealed in his profile, it appears to exactly match that of the ideal boy for this place and time.

I submitted a formal inquiry about him.

This morning I awoke reminding myself that this is a weightier thing than just adopting kittens. Yet when his picture popped up on my computer screen, it didn’t seem like such a crazy idea at all. There is something about his face which seems somehow familiar. Like maybe this is supposed to happen.

Derek just called to say he will be returning to Estrella Vista for a visit in July. I told him about this boy, and he didn’t think it was crazy. He suggested some key questions to ask. He knows what foster care can do to you.

We will see. Maybe the boy has already been placed. Maybe he is not as I have taken him to be, and unsuitable for our rustic and isolated setting. Maybe he could not be happy here. The child would have to want to be here.

Our ethos of “Freedom • Self-Responsibility • Adventure” would have to appeal to him. He would have to agree to self-govern his thoughts and deeds according to five absolute moral values. He would need to understand our practice of hospitality as a spiritual discipline and the importance of never abusing it. He would have to freely wish to fit in and be a contributing and trusted member of our family.

I have been researching and thinking about this possibility for years, but had never been sure if, how, or when it might come about. Whether or not this particular placement ever comes to be, I know that yesterday’s inquiry has set something in motion that will exert its own will, force, and influence on future events.

It will likely create a future in which solitude will be a rare and hard-won thing for me. Maybe I should have my head examined.