Saturday, January 19, 2013

Land of Enchantment

I have recently relocated from the Chicago area to southwestern New Mexico, state slogan: "The Land of Enchantment". For those who have never been, perhaps this sounds like a conceited overstatement to compete with the likes of Illinois ("Land of Lincoln"), New Hampshire ("Live Free or Die") or New York ("The Empire State"). Or maybe simply self delusion considering the miles of desert and apparent wasteland. But arguably New Mexico is better off in this department than the states of Texas ("Everything is Bigger in Texas", inadequacy issues?), Washington ("Say WA!", really?) and West Virginia ("We Ain't All Cousins", 'nuf said).

Only being here a week, I have already come to experience first hand the accuracy of this claim. Never have I seen skies bluer, air that smells fresher, vistas more remarkable. Even the quality of the sunlight is richer, more enlivening, in a word, enchanting.

Beyond extolling the beauty of my new homeland, I thought I'd discuss what may seem an obvious part of the selection process for any homestead. Find a place you truly love. Homesteading is as difficult as it is rewarding. Make sure you select a location in an area where you will feel rewarded for all of your hard work. A place where you will enjoy sitting on your porch in the evening with your beverage of choice watching the sun set. An area that you will never tire of exploring. A location with friendly people of like minds who will welcome you into their community and be interested in sharing (and possibly helping you) in your adventure.

The challenge for most of us is that we can't simply up root ourselves and move to the most beautiful setting we desire. Usually our selection is based on a series of compromises; distance to friends, family or employment, property values or a spouse's contrasting desires. Balancing all of these are important and each of us has to decide for ourselves which take precedence over the others. But if for any reason you select a place that you don't truly love, you will eventually become disappointed and your chances of succeeding in your new venture will diminish with time. So find your land of enchantment, wherever that may be.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Private Land Ownership

If you think about if for a second, the concept of private land ownership is a strange one. Each of us is born into this world, one that has existed for billions of years before any of us show up on the scene, and at some point in our lives we draw an arbitrary boundary around an area on the landscape and say, "This is mine." I can't think of a better example of human conceit and self importance. Yet to consider all of the cruelties inflicted, rivers of blood spilled and whole societies destroyed throughout the ages over land disputes simply boggles the mind.

I understand that land ownership is all about control of what can be done on a particular parcel and who can do it. Usually it boils down to the use of resources contained within whatever arbitrary boundary seems relevant to the parties in control. All of our conventions of law and legal transfer of ownership are simply processes we have put in place to reduce the amount of conflict related to determining who gets to decide what happens within what arbitrary boundaries. But over most of human history, the deciding factor has been who has the most lethal weapons and the biggest army.

But the issue always comes back to the use (or in most cases misuse) of natural resources. Our society, and almost all societies in the world today, are based on the concept of land ownership, either private or public. Every square inch of the surface of the earth is owned by someone. Notable exceptions are Antarctica (the only landmass on Earth that has no native human populations and is protected by international treaty) and the world's oceans, twelve nautical miles beyond shore, although there are many international treaties, disagreements and exceptions even to this simple rule.

My main observation is that even within all the rules, regulations and practices imposed on a landowner by local, regional and even international laws, overuse and sometimes outright abuse of natural resources occur across the globe. The problem is that landowners no longer are the only ones to suffer from mismanagement of their land. Most environmental problems, such as deforestation, pollution and resource depletion have regional and sometimes global consequences.

So this post is more food for thought than a recommendation for specific action. How do we raise global awareness for the consequences of resource depletion? Or maybe more to the point, how do each of us become better stewards of the land that we do own? (I touched on this issue in a previous post). No matter if that is a condo in a densely populated urban area, a 1/4 acre in a suburban sub-division or a 50 acre homestead, I'm convinced all of us can do a better job as sustainable land owners.

As a soon-to-be steward of about 5 acres in rural New Mexico, here are a few questions I will be asking myself which I think we should all consider. How can I utilize native, less resource intensive (water, fertilizer, labor) plants? What can I do to encourage more native wildlife on my property? How can I accomplish the same benefit (enjoying a beautiful landscape) with less labor and resources? For example, gas powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers are not only noisy and polluting but very inefficient compared to gas powered cars. Reducing or eliminating their use is a huge step towards sustainability.

In order to accomplish meaningful change we need to throw out old assumptions. For example, why do we assume that every house in America should be landscaped with sod (even in desert regions like Las Vegas)? Break the mold, challenge convention and replace that ocean of bland grass with more interesting and native landscaping that requires less water and maintenance. What else can you do to become a better steward of the land you own?