CARSON, NEW MEXICO—When the wind comes up the mesa, which it often does, there is a particular rusted-out old car nearby that whispers the same eerie, long-toned question every time: “Whoooooo?”
I sometimes think: “Us.”
Out in this remote part of the American Southwest lies the closest thing I have seen to an answer to how to actually live sustainably on the planet.
With groundwater too deep for wells, we harvest rain off tin roofs and collect it in cisterns for sparse use all year. With no plumbing, outhouses and even composting toilets or living-machine-style waste recycling systems are the standard. A landscape with a complete absence of power lines means small solar setups, use of solar gain in building design, or just going without. Heat is wood. This year everyone is burning the dead-standing pinyon pine that got hit by a bark beetle infestation.
When I lived with my grandparents back in the early 70’s we lived that life. The “quarter moon” out back of the house. Named for the shape of the ventilation holes cut in the door and sides. The big tin cistern on the east side of the house. The water hose on the back porch beside the wash basin on the rough wood stand for washing up before you went into the house. No faucet just a wire around the end of the hose and a nail on the porch post to hang the hose above the water level. The five gallon water cans we hauled with us to town to fill at the gas station for drinking water. Boiling the wash water before doing dishes and then boiling the rinse water to pour over the clean dishes. We had propane for cooking and heat in winter. The answer to summer heat was the swing on the front porch where there was almost always a breeze blowing the hundred plus miles from the south Texas coast. Yea, the southwest is the place where sustainability lives a very spare existence.