¡Verde Terlingua! part four: Life off the grid in a wild West Texas border town

¡Verde Terlingua!
Life off the grid in a wild West Texas border town
Words and photos by Daniel Chamberlin

In April 2009, Arthur contributing editor Daniel Chamberlin got down with the DIY homesteaders and off-the-grid outsiders of Far West Texas at the first annual Terlingua Green Scene. Find part one, “No Winners, Only Survivors”, by clicking here.

Part Four: The Good Dirt

Collie Ryan: “You’ve got to build your dirt here.”

Collie Ryan is another Big Bend resident who has reached a degree of fame, at least among the small group of music collectors that have sought out her 1973 private press folk music recordings. She was first exposed to a wider audience on Numero Group’s 2006 compilation Wayfaring Stranger: Ladies of the Canyon. And though her music has the delicate quality that characterizes so much of the Topanga Canyon scene after which the comp is named, Collie’s tune “Cricket” stands out with her reverberating voice and the naturalistic imagery of her lyrics. Collie is a folksinger of the highest accord, but she’s also been living the sort of life that inspired the denizens of California bohemia: an embodiment of the spirit that drives their music.

Collie is about to enjoy a second round of exposure, as Yoga Records, a Los Angeles-based label, is set to re-issue her ’70s recordings as The Rainbow Records. This will eventually lead to a series of shows in Los Angeles and elsewhere, the first Collie has played outside of West Texas in almost three decades.

In addition to her music, Collie renders the Big Bend country in psychedelic hubcap mandalas. Swirling colors radiate out from the tiny landscapes that occupy the heart of her paintings: the Rio Grande flows through stark canyon walls; cacti spread across dusty brown earth; Mexican peasants hold hands, wandering through the towering rocks.

Right now, Collie is going through an eviction process. The owners of the golf course adjacent to the school bus where she’s been squatting for the last 25 years have finally chosen to put her land to their own uses. It’s all happening in the town of Lajitas, a would-be resort destination some 20 miles down the road, a villa subject to much derision here in Terlingua as it represents the antithesis of their rural DIY lifestyle. The golf course there runs right up against the river and before it was washed out in a flood, it was frequented by the very Republican elites that are so despised here due to their insistence on crushing cross-border traffic—friends, relatives, grocery shoppers and schoolchildren from the neighboring Mexican towns—that has characterized this region for centuries.

“I spent 22 years on la frontera,” she says, “which was really an experience. The flood took the golf course out and they had to put it up higher, and it just happened to involve the space I was in.” There was some possibility of fighting their repossession of the land, but Collie didn’t want to stay there if it wasn’t on good terms. “They could’ve made my life miserable,” she says.

Collie moved down here in 1980, after meeting some Terlinguans in Tucson who struck her as being “so goddamn healthy.” After years of traveling the California folk and hippie circuit, she was eager to find a place to settle down. So she parted with several thousand dollars worth of the Huichol Indian art that she’d been collecting for about $400, which would just about pay for the gas to get her bus down to South Brewster County.

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¡Verde Terlingua! part three

¡Verde Terlingua!
Life off the grid in a wild West Texas border town
Words and photos by Daniel Chamberlin

In April of 2009, Arthur contributing editor Daniel Chamberlin got down with the DIY homesteaders and off-the-grid outsiders of Far West Texas at the first annual Terlingua Green Scene. Find part one “No Winners, Only Survivors” by clicking here.

Part Three: The Warmth of the Sun


Now go out and get yourself some thick black frames / With the glass so dark they won’t even know your name

John Wells is a sixtysomething contractor, photographer and sculptor from New York, and a self-described press whore. He’s got a blog, The Field Lab, chronicling the last year and a half of his life, building a compound north of Terlingua on a plot of land surrounded by mountains and canyons. He’s been profiled by Make Magazine and his website’s been BoingBoinged, so he’s a celebrity by Terlingua standards. It doesn’t hurt that he’s remarkably photogenic with an epic beard, and reflective sunglasses under a sun-bleached straw cowboy hat.

He smokes cigarettes while standing around jawing with some portly good ol’ boy-types who are bitching about Obama and what they fear will be an increase in property taxes. Wells’ primary reason for leaving his giant house in upstate New York was an aversion to such expenses. Out here he pays about $100 in property taxes per year for his 128-square-foot hut and 40 acres of pristine Chihuahuan desert.

They’re gathered around Wells’ solar cooker, a giant wooden contraption lined with reflective panels that amplifies solar rays, directing them today onto a chicken sitting in a glass dish. It’ll be ready for sampling in two or three hours at about 210 degrees, though some heavy clouds may delay dinnertime. “Clouds are not your friend when you’re solar cooking,” he says.

John Wells’ solar-heated chicken shack.

Wells uses the cooker out on his compound—it’s officially known as The Southwest Texas Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Field Laboratory—for baking most of his meals, which range from heated up cans of vegetables to home-baked bread and lasagna. He invites me to swing by and check it out tomorrow afternoon, and then rejoins the conversation with his buddies, which has turned to aquaponics, or the use of fish tanks to fertilize and irrigate the greenhouse he’s building right now. For the fish in the tanks he’s considering catfish or tilapia, as they’d also make for good eating.

“There’s full systems you can buy for $5000,” he says, “but of course I found a YouTube video, some guy who built one with $20 in materials and his fish are there and his plants are growing. And so I’m gonna try one little setup of that, see how it works.”

He plans to live in the greenhouse once it’s set up. I ask him what he wants to grow and he talks about marijuana and meth. He’s kidding, but I’m also curious about what seems like a lack of meth-heads out here. They’re a staple in the California deserts, half-toothless burnouts in torn-up sleeveless T-shirts, often seen riding to and fro from their toxic trailer labs on ATVs and dirt bikes.

“It’s mostly just drunks down here,” he says. ” I haven’t seen anybody with any really rotten teeth—except for if they’ve never been to a dentist.”

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¡Verde Terlingua! part two

¡Verde Terlingua!
Life off the grid in a wild West Texas border town
Words and photos by Daniel Chamberlin

In April of 2009, Arthur contributing editor Daniel Chamberlin got down with the DIY homesteaders and off-the-grid outsiders of Far West Texas at the first annual Terlingua Green Scene. Find part one “No Winners, Only Survivors” by clicking here.

Part Two: Hot Tubs and Poop Buckets

Shannon Carter and her sunflower hat.

Green Scene organizers Shannon Carter and Mark Kneeskern—both somewhere in their 30s—met in Terlingua seven years ago. Carter grew up in Baytown, a city located on the humid coastal plains east of Houston, home to several massive petrochemical industrial complexes. She recalls the year that the river behind her house caught on fire and their family had to be evacuated. In high school she got involved with Future Farmers of America, where she worked with calves, pigs, chickens, turkeys and lambs.

After two years at the community college in Baytown, Shannon moved to Alpine, one of the two small towns north of Terlingua—Marathon being the other one—that offer the last chance for ranchers, hunters and hikers to patronize anything resembling fast-food franchises or fully-stocked grocery stores before heading out into the West Texas wilderness. She tells me she wanted to get as far from Houston as she could while still paying in-state tuition, and Alpine’s Sul Ross University satisfied those requirements. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Health Management and Wildlife Biology. She tried grad school for a minute, but soon dropped out and moved to Terlingua in the spring of 1999.

“I’ve lived lots of beautiful places,” Shannon says, and happily recounts an adventure-job-circuit C.V. that includes six seasons of sea kayaking in the Virgin Islands, four seasons as a river guide in Colorado and a year in Moab.

“But none of those places compare to the solitude and vastness of this desert,” she says.

Mark Kneeskern hails from Audubon, Iowa where he had what sounds like a fairly idyllic childhood, adventuring on the East Nishnabotna River and roaming the pastures around his parent’s farm. He got a BFA from a state university that he decries as “worthless.”

Mark Kneeskern handles Green Scene traffic control.

Mark first came to Terlingua to visit a friend who was working in the Chisos Mountains, the high country of Big Bend National Park. They hiked and camped and Mark got to see a bear. His friend took him on a tour of the local drinking holes and they had what he describes as “crazy times” that left him “shook up.” He moved to Terlingua three years later to become a river guide.

“Terlingua is a hard place to live,” says Mark. “No running water or electricity on most properties. Flush toilets are rare. At first, these factors seem like obstacles, but when you get used to things, you realize that ‘simple’ is the best and happiest way to live. You learn to make it work if you have the will. When it’s nice, it’s paradise. When it’s not nice, it really is a living hell.”

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¡Verde Terlingua!
Life off the grid in a wild West Texas border town
Words and photos by Daniel Chamberlin

In April of 2009, Arthur contributing editor Daniel Chamberlin got down with the DIY homesteaders and off-the-grid outsiders of Far West Texas at the first annual Terlingua Green Scene.

Part One: No Winners, Only Survivors

The entrance to Terlingua’s community garden.

The tiny settlement of Terlingua lays in the Big Bend country of Far West Texas, just north of the Rio Grande, a place that remains one of the most remote areas of the continental United States. In the interest of continuing to lessen the town’s ecological impact, in April of 2009 a group of local homesteaders and off-the-grid-types organized the first Terlingua Green Scene, a conference of sustainable living strategies, including demonstrations of cob house construction, solar cooking and desert farming. The events took place in and around the town’s thriving community garden, a refuge for vegetables, sunflowers and other plants that would otherwise quickly expire in the arid Chihuahuan desert climate. A sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi, created by a Vietnam vet named Spider and painted by local folk music icon Collie Ryan, looks on from a small ridge just to the west.

The beneficent gaze of Spider and Collie Ryan’s St. Francis.

The Green Scene organizers’ aim — at least in part — is to strengthen community ties as well as to establish Terlingua as a hub of homesteading and DIY sustainability, and to give the town’s other legacies a run for their money: Terlingua has been a footnoted way-station in tales of smugglers heading from Mexico into the United States from the days of candellaria wax and sotol cactus moonshine up to the modern era of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and migrant workers. It’s also known for an annual chili cook-off that attracts thousands of Budweiser-swilling “chiliheads;” as a retreat for the Texas country and folk music scene; and of course there’s the world-class river rafting, mountain biking, birding and hiking of Big Bend National Park — over 800,000 acres of mountains, deserts, bears, antelope and alpine forests whose boundary is 10 miles to the east.

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No Exit—from the Not-So-Great Depression


No Exit—from the Not-So-Great Depression
by Charles Potts

No Exit is the title of one book by Jean Paul Sartre, a French writer, communist and co-father of Existentialism that I’ve never been able to read, even though I have always admired the fact that he thumbed his nose at the Nobel Prize for Literature saying something like, “I don’t accept prizes, whether the Nobel or a sack of potatoes.” The Nobel Prize for Literature, as you’ve probably heard, is passed out by a pack of gunpowder academics from the net proceeds of the fortune of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, by confusing politics with literature. Each year they make some kind of difficult-to-decipher gesture toward one or another enclave in the Third World. They haven’t given one to an American for a long time—trying to snub the Empire, I suppose. Who knows what all they read on their way to spurious decisions.

To give you an example of how far into the mire language has fallen, I’m under the impression the Swedes delegated the awarding of the Peace Prize to the Norwegians, and as an old Swedish girlfriend of mine used to say, “He ain’t Norwegian” when she wanted to insult somebody, the way dweebs from Eastern Montana make fun of the hapless denizens of North Dakota. I mean, they gave the Peace Prize to the Boy Scout from Chicago and he had to pick it up the very week he announced he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to win the war in Afghanistan at a cost of $30,000,000,000, i.e. thirty billion dollars. I hope the unemployed are sitting down for this but my honorary degree in rocket science suggests that it is impossible to win a colonial war when it costs the Empire A MILLION dollars per soldier to put a pair of boots, as the talking heads put it, on the ground. Even if they were taking gold out of Afghanistan by the trainload, colonial war is a losing proposition. And there is nothing else there to “win” either. The last time I can remember that the Peace Prize went to such a warmonger was when the great war criminal Henry Kissinger accepted it, on behalf of the scut work he did for the scoundrel Richard Nixon in the Empire’s war on Vietnam. Americans have forgotten their own colonial history, if they ever knew it. Back in the day, early 1600s, with the importation of some good tobacco from the Orinoco River in South America, Virginia became the drug producing capital of the new world. Fortunes were made. Now the Empire has the effrontery to try to wipe out the opium producers in Afghanistan.

Colonial War in all its many disguises is one of the primary reasons why there is No Exit from the not-so-great depression. To give the Tea Party sympathizers among the audience an example they can get their red meat teeth into, the Cheney-Bush Administration started and lost three unnecessary wars simultaneously while bankrupting the Treasury and blowing a hole in the world economy that likely won’t get re-filled in the length of an ordinary lifetime. And Republicans wonder why they are out of office.

To take their undeclared wars one at a time… (By the way, this civilization declared war in 1941, two years before your author was born, and has never declared peace. We have war as a way of life, described in the political literature as “Peace and Prosperity,” going down in history as a violent parody of standards even double-talk can’t reach.) In their post 9-11 mind set in concrete, they launched the aforementioned War on Afghanistan, allegedly because the perpetrators of 9-11, mostly Saudi Arabians and Egyptians, once trained there. It was described by that half-an-asshole semi-Colon Powell as asymmetrical warfare, overlooking the fact that the asymmetry was provided by the Empire, when a handful of special ops could have taken out the survivors of the plot for chump change. At least that’s the way Eisenhower’s CIA used to do it during the “Peace and Prosperity”-driven 1950s. Discontent with starting a war they couldn’t finish much less win led them on to the War on Iraq, a regime changer if there ever was one, to depose a war criminal satrap the Empire had set up years before, one Saddam Hussein by name, who never made the slightest dent in his long war against Iran, even with the Rumsfeld-provided poison gas.

Lying their way into war is the modus operandi of the Empire, now in need of a theme. Voila! A War on Terrorism. A war on abstract nouns is the perfect setup for the Empire. The enemy can’t be found, so Osama bin Laden is still at large, generating funds for both sides. The siege mentality of the Paranoid Christian Fascists has them fighting Islamo-Fascists and the Fascists are winning. For every terrorist killed three new ones are created, an endless supply for an endless war, in an Empire presided over by endless fruitcakes. The Empire has 16 separate spy agencies, all gathering information and hoarding it from one another, much less the people on whose behalf it is purportedly gathered. If you have a secret and somebody else wants to discover it, that somebody else becomes pro forma an enemy. The interlocution of paranoia; the structure of political madness.

The algorithm for the end of empires has three integrals and derivatives. How fast the leaders burn through their assets, chief of which is the support of their populations; the size of the asset base; and the quality and focus of the opposition. Costs of empire are borne by the entire population while the benefits accrue to the very few with inside jobs: no-bid contractors who milk the sacred American cow. In other words, the calculus of empire and colonial war is an exercise in socializing the costs—socialized war, anyone?—while privatizing the benefits. This best of both worlds is a dream scheme for plutocrats and a nightmare for everybody else. An Alice in Wonderland foreign policy presided over by the presidency, no matter who holds the office, presages an epic disaster.

If you haven’t dropped out yet, it’s probably time.

Charles Potts: wikipedia

Previous work by Charles Potts in Arthur…

“The Recession and How to Live Through It” (Jan 2009)

“The Dope From Muskogee”

Shoethrower Muntader al-Zaidi named Arthur Magazine “Man of the Year” 2008; Charles Potts salutes al-Zaidi with new poem, “Balls Out.”

“A Case of Cheney Paranoia”

Poem in Arthur No. 5 (special “Arthur Against Empire” issue)

“Spasm Empire”

Charles Potts & SUNN 0))) at ArthurFest 2005 – video footage

Friday, Mar 5, W-burg 7-9pm: all-star artshow "TIME TUNNEL" curated by Pali Kashi opening at Charlie Horse



film still from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Pali Kashi

Charlie Horse Gallery presents:

Time Tunnel

Curated by Pali Kashi

Mira Billotte
John Brattin
Eric Copeland
Jeff Davis
Spencer Herbst
Pali Kashi
James Kendi
Adam Marnie
Keith McCulloch
Rich Porter
Leif Ritchey
Arik Roper
Francine Spiegel
Ruby Sky Stiler

The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest and highest energy particle accelerator, and lies in a tunnel 175 meters beneath the Franco-Swiss border. Physicists hope that the LHC will help answer the most fundamental questions in physics, concerning the basic laws governing the deep structure of space and time.
–Brian Greene reporting for The New York Times

“Time Tunnel” proposes a collision of art-making traditions with the uncertainty of time and space. The collective unconscious is infused with ritual and mysticism, and has become dislodged and reinterpreted. The reformed amalgam of paint, wax, clay, sand, and plaster that is presented here are artifacts of this convergence. Totem poles are now made of monster masks, images of prairie women have paint splattered on them, Roman relics are fractured, sand mandalas are blurred, and our spirit animals have been unleashed into the wild.

Mira Billotte is an artist and musician (White Magic) interested in the “Music of the Spheres”; the belief that the planets of the solar system and stars beyond each create a tone in perfect harmony. Mira’s installations and sand mandalas reference transcendental rituals practiced throughout time.

John Brattin is a multi-media artist who uses sculpture, drawing, and painting to further inform his personal stories and myths which are eventually made into short films. He is currently working on a western.

Eric Copeland’s collages are visual remnants of his pondering of the moon, phallices, faces, and piles of trash. His abstracted compositions use repetition and disjunction much like the music he is known for making.

Jeff Davis’s two-dimensional work usually takes on “mysteriously ceremonial and often orgiastic configurations”. His totem-like structures are made from casting rubber halloween masks with multi-colored wax.

Spencer Herbst’s dadaist videos are a microscopic look into our everyday surroundings. His magnification of objects strewn about his apartment, salt crystals lying on a countertop, and wood grain in the floorboards are examined so closely that they take on an other-worldly reality.

Pali Kashi’s work presents the natural world through the power symbol of the triangle, which grants the viewer a new kind of portal into frozen moments of time.

James Kendi’s photographic process begins with asking people what their spirit animal is. He then creates a mask of that animal and photographs his subjects wearing the mask in the animal’s natural environment.

Adam Marnie is a mixed media artist interested in the sculptural presentation of images. By splicing traditional still life painting with pornography, he can sharply pierce us with flashes of flesh where we are expecting to see stems and roses.

Keith McCulloch’s watercolors meander through a maze-like interior filled with strange yet familiar apparitions.

Rich Porter depicts an array of primordial figures, focusing on the unseen molecular network between our bodies and landscape.

Leif Ritchey is an archaeologist of the sublime accumulations of his everyday surroundings. The objects he extracts from puddles near a sewer or broken glass hidden under a bush are taken back to his studio to be corralled into his futuristic vision.

Arik Roper’s work depicts a fantastical reality filled with mythical warriors, smoky terrain, and decaying skulls. His paintings breathe life into our uncharted history.

Ruby Sky Stiler rummages the storage cellar of historical artifacts to incorporate classic iconography into the context of her own relics. Her fragmented reliefs of ancient Greek and Roman imagery question the potency of sculpting the human form.

Francine Spiegel’s performance, The Curse of the Century Old Egg, which took place at Deitch Projects this last fall, was a literal mish-mosh of the past and present. The eerie happening gathered six women together in a curious ritual of transformation. The repetition of slime-dumping and paint-slinging turned these prairie-esque women, in ruffled regalia, into monstrous beasts over the course of an hour.

Time Tunnel will be on display from March 5, 2010 – March 17, 2010
Opening reception will be from 7-9 pm on Friday, March 5, 2010
Live Performances by Mike Bones and Luke Roberts

Charlie Horse Gallery
28 Marcy Ave
between Metropolitan and Hope
Take L or G train to Union Ave stop, walk down Metropolitan Ave 3 blocks and make a right onto Marcy

YOUR HEART IS A PRISM by Peter Glantz, Becky Stark and Jacob Ciocci


More info:

“This print is the first in a series that Becky Stark and I are making together. We write slogans and turn them into prints and videos. This is the first print and is designed in collaboration with Jacob Ciocci.

Jacob is a founding member of the art collective Paper Rad and plays in the band Extreme Animals. Becky is the lead singer/songwriter of the folk pop band Lavender Diamond. We’ve been longtime collaborators and friends. We live across the country from one another and write these slogans via text message. It’s fun to get a random positive message, and our intent is for people who come across these posters to get the same feeling of unexpected joy.

Our work together is about giving off healing vibrations generated by humor and beauty. We hope it makes you smile.

Your Heart Is A Prism!”
—Peter Glantz