How’d We Get Here?

Probably the question we get asked most often, other than “where should I put this compost?” is “how did you all decide to start this place? what’s your story?”

So we decided to write it up and put it here. This is Kat’s memory of how this story goes.

Tristan and I met in August of 1998, at a book signing for the Pagan Book of Living & Dying that was being held at Full Circle Books. I had moved to Albuquerque just a few days before, to begin attending the MA program in Literature at UNM. Tristan had been in Albuquerque for about a year at that time, having finished a degree in computer science at NM Tech in Socorro, and gotten a job at PNM. He’d connected with the pagan community during those years, and solidified those connections in moving to Albuquerque. Around 20 pagans showed up to that book signing, including Tristan, and that was my introduction to Albuquerque’s large, dynamic and close-knit pagan community.

Over the years, we got to know each other better at various pagan events, connecting well but not very deeply. Tristan was involved in the pagan community’s Land Fund for some years, but shifted his focus elsewhere when that group decided to look into purchasing rural land for outdoor festivals, rather than in-town land for events.

Skip ahead to 2003. I finished graduate school, spent a winter reading The Long Emergency in a state of existential panic, and joined the Land Fund effort with vigor. In realizing I was not destined to get a PhD and teach literature, I had to come to terms with what I actually wanted to do with my life, and it was clear to me that the single most pressing issue of our age is climate change. “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago,” the saying goes. “The second best time is now.” It was time to plant trees. And though I could plant a small garden, walk to work, and keep a compost bin, I could not undertake meaningful-feeling change alone, from my tiny converted adobe garage apartment on Lead Avenue. I needed to be part of a community.

Along with two other intentional-community-oriented people, I started building a yurt with my then-boyfriend, Matt, who was at the time trying to start a yurt-building business. We’d been camping in yurts at pagan gatherings for a couple of years and I loved them. We got involved in the Land Fund. The Land Fund group swelled to 27 people. It met and met, talked and talked. We attended workshops on nonviolent communication and group dynamics. We talked and talked and talked. We made bylaws. We argued about what we wanted. We argued about what we thought other people wanted. We picked a name, La Querencia, the homeland, choosing a Spanish word in honor of the strong Spanish heritage and traditions of our collective home in New Mexico. We read Creating a Life Together and we learned a lot from it. I still recommend this book to people who want to live in an intentional community, and our copy of it is loaned out right now.

La Querencia started going on field trips, looking at available properties, trying to figure out how we could structure ourselves so that some members would live in town, but financially support the land and have access to it, and other members would live on the land, presumably off-grid, and create an ecovillage. The talking and the field trips went on for years. We looked at so many amazing properties. We visited Zuni Mountain Fairy Sanctuary, and Ampersand, to see how other people were doing things. And that group just could never stop worrying about what “other people” were going to think, do, judge, decide about our decisions. And so we could never actually get anything done.

We kept going on field trips, though. We kept talking, and trying. I walked into Winnings Café one morning, looking for the field-trip group that was gathering to carpool up to a promising site near Mountainair, NM. There was this guy in a bandana sitting at one of our tables.  I went over to chat. His name was Alan, and he had recently met a couple other members of the ecovillage conversation. He turned out to be with our group, interested in becoming involved in a forming intentional community. I arranged for us to end up in the same carpool, and we talked all day.

On that field trip, the group toured a nearly-perfect piece of property outside of Mountainair, NM called Three Springs. It had a small cabin, three springs, pinon juniper forestation, open plains, tall trees, decent road access. All the things we said we wanted. We came back to town and talked more. I got Alan’s number after dinner. The group met again the next week… and decided not to buy Three Springs.

I was exhausted. It was the perfect land. We were going to be stuck arguing about “other people’s” theoretical opinions forever. The ecovillage group as a whole got exhausted with the constant round-the-block conversations. We split off into a smaller, 13-person splinter group (some from La Q, some who had avoided the large group), called Glowing Oak. Alan (whom I had started dating) joined the splinter group with me. I finished building my yurt. We looked at a large piece of property outside of Mora, NM, way up in the mountains. It was gorgeous. It had an underground house, a seasonal creek, blackberry bushes, a canyon, a ridgetop. It was challenging but possible. We sorted out finances and made an offer on it. And we waited. And then it turned out one member of the group had been financially dishonest with others. There was a big blowout. Matt and I broke up. Another group-shaking blowout. Months went by. There was no motion on the property offer, though we contacted the seller’s realtor several times. No work on the water rights & road easement. Glowing Oak got together at a Beltane celebration, to talk about the land. Fe said something to the effect of, “I think this inaction is a sign we need to look at ourselves, and discover the reason why this is not meant to be.” Two other people said, it’s been fun, but we’re going to get married and buy a house in the south valley. Two other people made roughly the same decision in the wake of that one.

At the end of the day, Alan, Matt, Fe and I looked at each other and said, well, we still want to do this. We still want to do this with people. But maybe we really need to re-evaluate how we are doing this.

We met as a small group, and looked at a few rural properties, mostly closer to Abq/Santa Fe than before. Nothing quite fit. Alan and I kept thinking about Dave & Leslie’s choice, and came back to that idea, “farm in the south valley.” The valley has water. The valley has trees, and housing, and we could keep our regular day-jobs and commute. Maybe we needed to re-evaluate the limitations of the possible.

Meanwhile I was taking a series of astrology workshops with Tristan. After class one night I brought up the Land Fund, and how he had wanted to be involved years before if it was going to be on in-town land. “Are you still interested,” I asked, “because Alan and I are starting to think this would work better if we bought a farm in the South Valley, but we STILL don’t want to do it alone.” “Yes!” he replied.

We met up to talk about it. “I want to invite my new girlfriend, Jenny,” Tristan said. “She has always wanted to live in a strawbale house.” So we all got together to talk it out, and it seemed worth taking a chance on together.

The smaller group was infinitely more effective than any of the larger groups had been, and within six months of forming Sunflower River, we were closing on the property. That was autumn 2007.

The rest, as they say, is history!