on gray being the new black

That’s the cliché surrounding women of a certain age lately, isn’t it?

Just like 50 is the new 30. I actually heard someone say that.  It’s not.

I haven’t always embraced a graying head of hair.  Once I did.  Several  years ago I decided to stop coloring my hair. I just went cold turkey with the hair color and let ‘er rip.



I was happy with a mousy brown with increasing gray strands.

“Honey, you are so brave to do this, but let’s color it now.”

“You’re way too youthful to go gray.”

What my hair stylist missed was that I wanted to go with it.  She didn’t agree. She was my age and she colored her hair. She looked nice. She felt we absolutely needed to color.

So I caved to her.

I was finishing my degrees and I knew about the widespread ageism in the academic world.

I told myself that I’d let the gray grow out when I finished my master’s. After that, I said when I finished the PhD.

Finally, it would be when I landed a full time position.

The degrees are finished and I’ve pretty much thrown in the towel on the full time position, unless it’s in a business I create. Sure, hope springs eternal. But I’m not going to continue coloring this head of hair until then.


See the gray?  And, yes, that’s the ex ex-ed out the best I could manage. I tried the clone stamp tool but I think I prefer a few eraser swipes. It’s a lot less work.

So, why now? Why grow it out now?

You could say I had an epiphany.

I’ve been coloring my hair more and enjoying it less. Since I’ve been a single mom I haven’t wanted to use the money to get it done professionally. I’ve had to face what is there on my head up close and personal. And, the personal maintenance time of keeping some kind of brown hair could go into so many other things I enjoy doing.

Funny thing is, it seems like it’s easy to fudge the color through your fifties.  But when? When do I begin to just let it be?

Right now.

gray showing2

It doesn’t look impressively gray/silver, but I’ve only been doing this for two months. There are a variety of colors on my head.  At the front of my face and temples, silver-white. In places, some  gunmetal gray.

One of my grandmothers had gunmetal gray hair and one had extraordinary white hair. Without adding color, I’m currently and happily redefining mousy brown with all of those varieties of silver underneath.  Guess I’m all in with the change.

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an irrigation tower for drylands gardening, part 2, and some drought thoughts

Here’s the latest.

Saturday, March 22, we met and continued work on our gravity-fed irrigation “tower.”


The frame for our prototype tower was built. We repurposed some wood that was here at the farm and we bought a few 2x4s also.

Here’s the frame.


And from another angle.


We decided to anchor the frame permanently with Quikrete. These holes are about 18″ or so deep.



Anchoring the water tower in this way should help the barrel and tower withstand the year-round high desert winds.


Next farm day, we’ll get the barrel in place and run drip hose. There will be a nozzle at the bottom of the tank, with a splitter attached, allowing the connection of multiple garden drip lines.


Have I mentioned how much I love it when people bring their kids to a farm day workshop?

And, finally, we will install filters made of cheese cloth or paint strainers at certain joints, keeping the whole system unclogged and free of debris. Debris in the lines is a perpetual concern in drip systems.


We’ve discussed the possibility of adding more barrels in sequence. We may or may not do that now, depending on what other workshops may come up. This has been a learning experience and this irrigation tower is a prototype for gravity fed construction.

If you live in a place where you can mount catchment barrels on the roof, that might be even more efficient. If you live in a place where more water falls from the sky, even more so.

More photos to follow.

And moving along…

Our recent rain showers have not brought an end to California’s worst drought since we’ve been recording rainfall patterns. That would make this the worst drought since the mid- to late 1800s. In fact, it’s more like a 500 year drought.

Many people have not heard of the Medieval droughts. People are barely accustomed to thinking about droughts that last decades. In the Middle Ages, California experienced two serious droughts, lasting 140 years and 220 years.

Warming and drying. Drought and mega-drought. Fires and landslides. And then mega-floods. They all go together. 500-year droughts; 500-year floods.

In fact, we are overdue for a 200-year flood here on the west coast, here in California. To say nothing of The Big One.

I’m not sure what these seemingly apocalyptic thoughts have to do with our water tower.

It comes from living in this howling high desert for decades and for working at growing food from this land for 25 years. What began as a way to increase my large family’s food supply, grew into an obsession, led to a PhD, and now has me here.


If we can eke a bit of food from such a marginal climate and we watch those around us do the same while we share our knowledge, maybe there are some answers in this high desert for a warming and increasingly climatically chaotic world.


To begin with the obvious, one obvious change that people can make toward water conservation is to use the water they have more effectively. Maybe stop planting lawns in a desert. For those not in a desert, the idea of “food not lawns” is worth exploring.

More. Maybe encouraging the growth of native food plants and learning to prepare them. More effective water use, better timing for the water we do employ, such as using less water when the plants we grow tolerate less water.


Restorative agriculture, not extractive. Farming in imitation of nature. Polycultures, not monocultures. More perennial food plants, less annual. In fact, my ideal would be perennial polycultures.

beginning manzanita grove and lavender

For the last three years I’ve been alternating between fight and flight. Stay in this desert or leave it. If I stay, I may stay the rest of my life.*

My loan modification has made the choice for me for the next almost-three years. So I fight on here for three years and see what happens. And then I make a choice.

* I may be leaning toward this line of thought because most of my thinking involves this land as home base and very frugal travel when the isolation, the ceaseless winds and climate extremes get the better of me. On the other hand, I know that things can change and change radically in any number of ways in three years. So onward.

Posted in agroecology, climate change, community, dryland restoration, Nature, resilience, socioecological intelligence, sustainability education, sustainable agriculture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How the Adjunct Crisis Hurts Students and the Importance of Fighting Back


One view. A good one imo. Haven’t had time to post about adjuncting, farming, or aging into the life single lately. I’ll be back. Meanwhile, do read this. It says it all fearlessly.


“Adjunct professors—the contingent majority—deserve to be paid a salary commensurate with our experience so that we, America’s former students, have a chance to climb out of debt in our lifetime and reclaim higher education for our students and future generations. Students, often referred to now as “the consumer,” and their parents want to pay less tuition and see that money go to the classroom, not to unnecessary personnel whose tasks could be consolidated under a more reasonable salary matrix. After all, a case can be made that no one at a public institution of higher education aligned with the public good should be making a six figure salary.”

Maybe you agree, disagree, or stand in the middle. I’ll be back to continue on about how and why I do agree.

Originally posted on Academe Blog:

Today I’m pleased to be able to publish this guest post by AAUP member Miranda Merklein, a contract professor serving the Northern New Mexico area. She holds a Ph.D. in English from University of Southern Mississippi, an M.A. in liberal arts from St. John’s college, and a B.A. in political science from College of Santa Fe.

Adjuncts are frequently told that basic necessities like a living wage and health care are not “in the budget” of the institutions that employ us, where we work full time hours as contracted, part time labor in a semester-to-semester purgatory state of what-ifs, often at multiple institutions with little to no control of our teaching schedules. We are the lowest paid, albeit terminally educated and skilled, employees at our institutions where we are treated like untouchables by virtually everyone on campus except our students who, until recently, had no idea we were teetering on…

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This is a time in life when many of my women friends are considering what we want to do “next.”

Some of us are single.

Some of us have means; some not so much.

Most of us who are single are trying to understand the ins and outs of “never being able to retire.”

For me, I’d always thought I wanted to engage with some kind of work, even as I aged.

My ex always claimed to like that idea. He used to say he’d retire when I was making as much as he did at whatever time he said that. I’d go teach and dig scientific holes at archy sites and write and he’d stop working and play his guitar. Seemed okay to me at the time.

When these little conversations happened, I really had no idea how sparse the F/T teaching jobs were; I didn’t foresee what would happen with my life in archaeology; I had no idea that a virus would want to have my heart for lunch; and I really didn’t get what was happening in my marriage. I was living in a fine little bubble. A very temporary bubble. A very illusory bubble.

So you should view this fleeting world
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightening in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
~ the Buddha (one translation)

Yeah, that’s about right.

20 Oct 04 028

I’ve been experiencing a shift in my thinking. “Shift” is the right word for it. It’s like the whole framework of my life has just shuddered on down the line.

For a number of years I thought my life was taking a certain course, the course I talked about above. I would settle into some kind of high desert sunset and let the years unroll with Mr. Ex.

What a load of happy horse-shit.

My former partner not only was not at all invested in thoughts like that, he hadn’t been for any number of years.

The emotions attached to all of this have been difficult but, honestly, lately I’ve been feeling more like the financial practicalities are swarming to the forefront. Maybe that’s good.

My finances now are my own. The IRS thing is resolved. I have to repair some of the credit damage that lingers on the files at credit bureaus. I have to make sure that my name is not being used in some of the ways it was in the past by certain individuals. At this point, I suppose that would be identity theft. But, finally, it’s my identity. So, yeah, maybe this kind of stress is good in some ways.

A friend of mine and one of my sons told me when the whole messy process began that I would come out in better shape, even with an income quartered (drawn and quartered?), than I had been in while married. They both made some accurate points. And now at least I don’t have to worry about where that money has gone and listen to stories invented to persuade me.

I am beginning to think longer now, not so short.

While I was going through the divorce, so much of my thinking was short term. How to make it from Point A to Point B. That’s done. My situation now is what it is.

The county and the federal government are helping me with support of my final minor child. In a year and a half that assistance will be gone.

Time to begin composing a new life so that doesn’t smack me upside the head when it arrives.

Considering what is in the academic world, what is in cultural resource management in California, what is directly in front of me, I’m done with the academic climb as a way to provide for myself and my family. Archaeology is, and will always be, a passion. Maybe paid maybe unpaid. I’ve done both. I may continue to do both.

I have a certain level of disability that may or may not improve. Self-care dictates that I need to consider this if I want to be around to help provide for my younger kids and help my older kids and grandkids.


Right now I have no freakin’ idea what I will be doing in a year and a half. I know that I went to the beach with the younger three kids a week ago and enjoyed it. I will teach this week. I may take a trip out to a site in several weeks and do some work, if the cardio doc says okay. We had a farm day last weekend and we will have another before the end of the month.


Now I need to develop a consciousness that will lead me into the future.

I know I need to view my life shifting as a good thing. I need to get myself out there more, out into nature and out “there.” There being wherever it may be at any given time. Right now it’s driving out to Brendan’s soccer practice.

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Wordless Wednesday

kathy lake erie

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an irrigation tower for drylands gardening

One of the new farm day participants (but someone who has been following our work for a long time) has initiated a new project.

We began construction on Saturday.

At Rainshadow Farm, we have hand-watered from the get-go. We do not have eaves or downspouts on our California-built farmhouse for installing any rain barrels. Hand-watering is incredibly time-intensive, although it does tend to conserve water because you can gauge the needs of each plant, tree, or grouping as you go. If we were a production farm instead of an educational and research farm, I’m sure I’d already be using drip irrigation. If we decide to stay here for the long(er) haul, I’m sure I’ll install drip systems.

Meanwhile, my kids water by hand and have my undying love and respect for that.


Our new participant came in with an idea and a 55-gallon barrel.

Here’s what we’re doing.



I call it our water tower because after running the idea through several participants and after beginning the work itself, the idea went through several iterations to its best form. We decided to make a small water tower catchment and supplement system for a high desert garden. A number of the towers placed around the farm could feasible water the entire orchard and many vegetable beds, even the compost pile, but we are building a prototype that may be helpful for people with a simple household vegetable garden to water in the desert. We will pick which lucky garden bed gets to be our experimental subject at the next farm day.

Tower frame engineer.

Tower frame engineer.


We’ll build a strong wooden frame for our barrel, raising it about three feet from the ground. There will be a nozzle at the bottom of the tank, with a splitter attached, allowing the connection of multiple garden drip lines. We will anchor the “water tower” frame to the ground by sinking the bottom legs of the tower 18 inches or (better) 2 feet into the ground and cementing them in. This will help the barrel and tower withstand the astounding winds we get in the high desert year ’round. It will also create a permanent installation. If someone doesn’t want a permanent water collection device, they might wish to secure the tower contraption another way. I’ve mentioned one of those ideas below.


We are in a drought right now and we are also living in the desert, so making this completely self-sustaining isn’t entirely practical currently. Still, it is a water conserving system and the more water we can save in small-scale desert gardening, the better.


The barrel will sit about 3 feet off the ground and function from gravity, slowly leaking water to the plants. We currently have 1 gallon per hour emitters to install. If someone wanted a slower drip, they might install their barrel lower to the ground. We liked three feet up. That proposed height brought out all kinds of ideas involving cinder blocks and wooden tables with rope and cement stakes, which would allow the barrel to be moved. Finally someone suggested a min-water tower set up. Her idea was the best and the most practical. It is permanent but I like that idea because it also was the most secure installation idea.

Water catchement system designer.

Water catchement system designer.

When we get near the end of this project, we plan to install filters made of cheese cloth or paint strainers at certain joints, keeping the whole system unclogged and free of debris. People who use drip know that clogging is a factor we always have to deal with.

Another feature of the design is the possibility of adding more barrels in sequence.

We will continue work on this project at our next meeting. More photos to follow.

Posted in agroecology, community, dryland restoration, resilience, socioecological intelligence, sustainability education, sustainable agriculture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

storm watch

It’s raining here. That’s good news, at least for the time being.



California is experiencing a serious drought. Our reservoirs are appallingly low. Our population is high. We are certainly overpopulated for the amount of water we have available, even at the best of times.

Here are side-by-side photos of Folsom Lake, a northern California reservoir that is near Sacramento. At least 500,000 people get their water from this reservoir. The picture all across California is not too different from this. California is in a “drought emergency.”

Folsom Lake, California Department of Water Resources.

Folsom Lake, California Department of Water Resources.

What is this – a drought emergency? Let’s start with damage to the California farming economy. We’re facing higher food prices, less food choice, and significant job losses. Since so much of California’s economy is tied into agriculture and California agriculture is tied into irrigation, this is a serious situation, indeed.

Farm fields will go unplanted. Some predict farmers will pull back and idle crops like cotton, wheat and corn. Maybe they will divert irrigation to orchards. If fruit and nut trees aren’t watered in California, they die. It can take up to seven years to replace their crops. California tomatoes, garlic, onions, lettuce, and melons will eventually increase in cost all across the nation. So will fruit. So will everything, eventually.

Seedling in the desert.

Seedling in the desert.

Ranchers will be hurt. Larger-scale California ranching is a fairly water-intensive operation. If grass/pasture doesn’t grow, ranchers rely on alfalfa, a thirsty crop.

Bless our sustainable ranchers.

Bless our sustainable ranchers.

Rural northern California is hurting already. Nearly twenty communities there face severe water shortages in the next two to three months. The state of California said last Friday that, for the first time since 1960 (that’s 54 years), it will not be releasing water from reservoirs to 29 water agencies serving something like 25 million people. That’s half the people in the state, at least.

What about the Southland? The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) is a water wholesaler for various cities and municipal water districts, serving 19 million people. Southern California has stockpiled water from diverse sources (snowpack from the Sierra Nevada and local mountains, Colorado River water, regular precipitation, and groundwater). Still, the district has asked users for voluntary 20% cuts.

Governor Brown has asked all Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 20%. Mandatory residential or business cuts of 20% to 50% are in place for some communities, mostly in the north from what I’ve heard.

I want to talk about groundwater in southern California later. It’s not a pretty picture. None of this is, really.

Back to mega-drought. Governor Jerry Brown has very recently advised us that this upcoming year could bring a “mega-drought.”

We’re hearing that term “mega-drought” tossed around. It sounds like one of those D-grade films on the SyFy Channel that I sometimes can’t stop watching.

You know, though, it’s not hyperbole.

Folsom Lake, above, is at 17% of its total capacity. Two and a half years ago it was at 97% of its total capacity. Last year brought California 7.48 inches of rain. That’s the lowest amount in 119 years of record keeping. In fact, that’s less annual precipitation than my region of the southern Mojave is “supposed” to receive, as an average.

Marc Reisner once said that California had a “desert heart.”

Many have pointed out that much of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County are located in harm’s way.

Housing tracts have been placed on floodplains and in wildfire zones. Large industrial districts, entertainment complexes and vast tracts of housing, not to mention city centers, are constructed on and near filled-in wetlands and liquefaction zones (bad news in earthquakes: sands and silts give way, causing roads and buildings to collapse).

The potential for earthquake tragedy has not been fully fathomed. Mike Davis has quoted seismologist Kerry Sieh maintain (after the 1994 Northridge earthquake), “Until this last year I was never truly scared. Now, I am.”

FEMA photograph of Northridge earthquake taken January 17, 1994, by Robert A. Eplett.

FEMA photograph of Northridge earthquake taken January 17, 1994, by Robert A. Eplett.

Every year, now sometimes twice a year, Californians turn on their TVs to watch nearby wildfires eat up acres of land and often homes and businesses.

My desert's on fire.

My desert’s on fire.

And now we are hearing about some kind of frightening mega-drought. I have lived in southern California since 1974. The real consequences of building one of the world’s economies in a region with a “desert heart” and building it with a flourish are rarely considered.

The news of the day is full of talk about “not enough water,” “I will not be able to wash my car,” “how will I take a 10-minute shower,” and potential effects on local lawns. We really need to start talking seriously about what it means to be overpopulated in an environment that cannot carry all of us.

In the Middle Ages, California experienced two serious droughts, droughts that some of my students might refer to as “epic.” And epic they would be since they lasted 140 years and 220 years.

These days we talk about long-lasting droughts of a decade, or close to a decade. The medieval mega-droughts have been carefully measured and dated in northern California, in the eastern watershed of the Sierra Nevada and they encompass a time scale unlike any we’ve been experiencing or even speculating about . There is also research in paleoclimatology that shows while the water in the eastern Sierra was drying up, the salinity of San Francisco Bay was climbing precipitously, indicating a serious lack of fresh water flowing into the bay.

SF Bay

SF Bay

SF Bay and city.

SF Bay and city.

Here in the south, things were not much better. In Santa Barbara, Orange County, and coastal Los Angeles, the huge droughts of the Middle Ages had an effect as well. What is now coastal Los Angeles County with its Mediterranean sort of ecosystem was a semi-arid zone backing up to the Pacific Ocean.

There is global paleoclimate evidence that the great Medieval droughts of the California region were part of a global pattern of climate anomalies.

Those droughts of the middle ages were natural occurrences, global interactions of ocean and atmosphere and polar ice, that flipped a climate switch and created a worldwide series of changes, including massive and prolonged drought in many parts of the world.

To keep things interesting, climate studies show that the normal temperature and precipitation amounts recorded in California over the last 150 years or so are at odds with any real, long-term conditions. California Gold, our mild and beautifully Mediterranean climate, has been documented over about 150 years of West Coast modernity. What we’ve documented is an anomaly. We live in a climate anomaly. We have been recording one of the wettest, yet, mildest periods of California history.

Marc Reisner was correct, in a deeply perceptive, maybe almost prophetic, way.

First, we are living with false norms as far temperature and precipitation go. Second, the reports of the UNIPCC indicate that California will suffer decreased rainfall, seasonal shifts, increased fire dangers, and potential for alternating severe drought and floods. Increased anthropogenic climate change is not going to ameliorate the potential for disaster here in the Golden State.

The upshot is that climate change along with our current drought could increase many risks of living in California.

What would happen if we were to be plunged into a drought like either of the very severe Medieval droughts? What would happen to our cities, our farmland, all of our infrastructure? Throw in a major earthquake, something the geologists have been predicting for several decades, particularly on the southern portion of the San Andreas Fault, and then what?

Dust Bowl. California. Now.

Dust Bowl. California. Now.

Good grief, I’m not an apocalyptic person. If a woman like I am, one searching out the calm ponds in life, can acknowledge this is happening, in fact can KNOW this is happening, friends, it’s time to take a long look at the disaster-prone region we have chosen to inhabit. There are no extra scraps on the table in Sacramento, sadly, to mitigate this.

Any chance we might look to Boulder, Colorado with its slow-growth ordinances intended to limit residential growth? Could we develop an interest in zoning regulations that take ecological factors into consideration in new ways? I honestly don’t see this happening. People want to build and live in the chaparral, profound fire danger be damned. Before I lived in this desert, I resided in a mountain village here in southern California that had the San Andreas fault running directly through it. In addition, the forest land surrounding the village was/is filled with pine trees riddled with bark beetles, producing a huge fire hazard each dry season. Now, it’s all dry season. We were blithe about the fire danger. We somehow considered the bedrock of our mountain a protector against shaking on the fault line. Human nature? I don’t know. At least when I grew up in Tornado Country, we all had basements and storm cellars. There was some sort of tentative respect for the elements.

So, southern California.

Are we going to stop building in ecosystems where the native plants are adapted to fire in order to germinate? Those ecosystems would be our beautiful hillsides, everywhere up and down the Golden State. Are we even going to insist upon more stability and soundness in our built environment, for everyone?

Finally, are we going to insist that our children and young people be provided with an education that not only (possibly) includes but clearly forefronts regional environmental education so that they can make intelligent and socioecologically sound, reasonable, and just decisions as the years unroll?

If we decide that’s a good idea, where will we get the money to do it? Even an old unschooler like me, even I cannot continue to run a learning center like this on a shoestring forever. Or can I?

Maybe this is exactly what learning toward a safe and sustainable way of life will look like – a series of learning centers running up and down the state, each one connected to the next in a patchwork.

Rural, exurban, suburban, urban. Maybe we will have to begin to implement environmental solutions on producing farms, in backyards, on hardscrabble country farms, in small-scale household gardens, in city yards, on donated city land.

farm-based learning.

farm-based learning.

Weeding the orchard. It's almost her birthday here!

Weeding the orchard. It’s almost her birthday here!

Books to look at:
Davis, Mike. (1998). Ecology of fear: Los Angeles and the imagination of disaster. New York: Vintage Books.
Reisner, Marc. (1986). Cadillac Desert: The American West and its disappearing water. New York: Penguin.

Posted in agroecology, climate change, education, fire season, Nature, resilience, socioecological intelligence, sustainability education, sustainable agriculture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment