Thursday, November 25, 2010


FROM OUR WASTEFUL, ISOLATED, IGNORANT SELVES? -----I THINK IT CAN!!! Come with me to Cordes Junction, Arizona. We will visit a prototype city-of-the-future envisioned by Italian Architect Paolo Solari--constructed by his supporters. Behind this sign a few miles out in the desert, perched on a canyon's edge is ARCOSANTI---the exact opposite of SunCity, only 60 miles away---where everyone has his own separate plot of land and house. Here, people live more or less pueblo style--in cubicles stacked atop one another--tastefully and interestingly of course, but compressed and "vertical" as opposed to horizonal (urban sprawl) .About 40 souls live here, including the famous architect himself--now 90 yrs young. If you are tempted to jump to the conclusion that spacy "sprawl" is the better way to live----Solari would have you think again. I've been here many times--this bold experiment interest me. Today I come to refresh my understanding.
Slowly, Slowly, it grows--concrete, steel and glass. A word of warning--It is not wheelchair accessible---stairs only and they are not apologetic for this---pointing out that much of the world cannot be efficiently made so.

See what I mean by vertical. I really meant to ask: How vertical? Like skyscrapers? Or only walkably vertical--6 or 7 floors? What I'm most interested to learn is whether pueblo style living is more conducive to peaceful, efficient, creative living than urban sprawl living? Now that I think about it we have clear examples of both styles from the American Indians---the plains indians sprawled out in teepee villages and the pueblo dwellers living atop one another. I'm guessing the Pueblo people were more peaceful and harmonious than the warlike Comanches. But were they more creative? I don't know. Have to learn more.

Meet Jeff--long time dweller at Arcosanti---builder and thinker. I lucked out--catching him at lunchtime and he graciously gave me an hour of his time.

I hope I used my opportunity wisely. Jeff was good natured and amazingly open. Told me that Solari has been hired to design a new bridge somewhere in the Phoenix area. (details later) Will try to reflect what I learned in my philosophizing bit.
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: Urban sprawl like Sun City is horrendously wasteful of resources, destructive of the environment and not conducive to cross pollination of ideas. Vertical living is obviously more efficient and when well designed promotes stimulating interaction. Solari in one of his books says that civilization began when, after agriculture, people built defensive city walls and lived within them---forcing folks to interact more as they came and went ----and this interaction--exchange of greetings and ideas set humanity off on its glorious advance into technology and art. I think this is true---I believe we all yearn to be creatively connected with others. The advanced personalities that I know are people who CONNECT. (not compulsively--desperately, controllingly or idley---but like Einstein, Darwin and others of their ilk--connect with intent, focus, sporatically, constructively---then DISCONNECT to think solitarily.
Outside my Trailer this thanksgiving day are 100 of my friends in a hundred mobile houses--clustered in the desert--within shouting distance--all about to share a meal together in one hour. They make me rich with their sharing. Perhaps we are an optimum blend of both lifestyles.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


A VISIT TO THE COMFORT CAPITOL OF AMERICA: Sun City and its sisters! See them to believe it----6 Huge, visionary inspired, retirement communities----each a small city---scattered across the desert north and west of Phoenix---with names that, surprisingly, match their essence: Sun City---Sun City West---Sun City Grand---Sun City Festival---Arizona Traditions---and---Happy Trails. I have decided to penetrate to the heart of one of these architectural lotus blossoms---breathe its perfume---splash its crystal waters, commune with its gentle citizens--- test its effect on my head and heart. I have done so!---here is my report: I have friends in cushy places----Meet Jo---who has agreed to host my two week stay in Lotus Land.
We begin with a superficial tour of its perimeters. She wheels out her golf car--t---marvelous, zippy electric vehicles. (costing about $11,000)
Can you see the name--Sun City Festival---The latest community built.
Typical Landscaping.
Can you see my trailer stashed behind the fire dept on a vacant lot.
I slowly acquaint her with my lifestyle. Who Knows, she might enjoy a trip with me.
She loves her splendid kitchen---That's real granite countertops. The rest of the house is equally luxurious. No neighborhood eyesores anywhere here---and no children---and no noise.
She takes me dancing.
And to festivals.
And Nightclubs---this one--- Dominic's was loads of fun. Almost everyone gets up to dance. I guess older folks ---more conscious of sand falling in the hourglass have finally cast aside stifling self consciousness---to rise up and boogie. (See the pen and cards in my pocket--I take notes--for you)
That lady in Green is in her eighties--wow could she dance--an inspiration.
A daytime dance lesson with a neighbor. They are showing me the steps to "The Madison." (I finally got it)
On another day she takes me to the Clubhouse.
Everybody seemingly has one of these electric carts.
Manicured like the gardens of Versailles
A huge roomful of workout gizmos. Older folks here seem amazingly healthy--seem determined to be fit and active to the end.
In the water too---a string of ladies--"never gonna grow old"
You think luxury like this is only for the rich. It isn't! I was surprised at the modest fee for club use.
Here is the middle class---generally the good-sense middle class that saved and worked--as couples to buy a home here. Current prices start around 150 and go to 400. The question I'm asking myself is whether this busy, glitzy lifestyle is more likely to shrink or expand your soul.

A pickleball (downsized tennis)tournament---drawing hundreds from all the other Sun Cities.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: Deep thanks to my pretty host--I had a great time.
Sun City in all its incarnations is urban sprawl at its finest--and most extreme. (the world cannot be housed this way--not enough resources. In a future blog I will show you its antithesis--Arcosanti) But for now I celebrate this highly evolved community. It has morphed from simply housing---to themed community---to retirement community to full blown lifestyle. It's walls, location, price and covenants effectively keep out the riff raff----clustering in---the best of middle class retirees. Everyone here is (almost certainly) clean and civil---every house obviously of the same species---yet showing interesting individuality. Club houses are pleasure palaces---with programming as full as summer camp. IT IS ALMOST ENOUGH---security, order, amusement. What's missing is GRAND CHALLENGE---which cannot be engineered or programmed---but personally discovered. I think no one can be deeply satisfied till they are working on the frontiers of something---even small somethings.
My lady friend smiles knowingly as I tell her I am leaving---she has understood me!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


DOWN FROM THE HIGH COUNTRY---7000 to 1000 ft elevation---I'm readyto be warm again and ready for my next adventure. But I will not rush---a hundred miles in one day is more than I'm comfortable with---will "feel" my way down stopping to see what strikes me-- stopping short of re-entering civilization. Payson, Az to Phoenix is a lovely drive.

My first stop is at the tiny community of Rye---where this guy has assembled the world's largest collection of motorcycles, bicycles, and other odd conveyences. His team specializes in vintage parts and for about a thousand bucks will build you almost any motorcycle ever made---guaranteed running condition.

Then down, down, down--till I see this famous spire. Recognize it? ----Its Weavers needle---the starting point for the unending search for the Lost Dutchman's mine. To this day--lecture halls fill up to hear experts tell the facts about Jacob Waltz's fabulous find. He died not revealing its wherebouts . I think I'll camp somewhere here, becausing I'm nearing civilization.

So I just picked this spot in the nearby desert---but as you can see, I'm not level---and my propane powered fridge insist that I do better. Pay attention newbies--I will show you how to get level almost anywhere.

On the high side, dig holes for the tires to settle into---takes about a minute.

Then on the low side put boards into position. Now, carefully pull forward---Presto---

You're level ---side to side.----front to back is done with the tongue jack---a few twist and a glance at your level and you're ready for the evening show. I pause almost every day to appreciate sunset--especially colorful evening skies. Till now, I'm all alone in this desert---expecting no one----AND THEN---AND THEN.

This pretty lady drives up , walks up and asks to join me for sunset. I shook off my astonishment and said sure---got her a chair---together we photographed---the sky and each other. Perhaps in Cleveland tonight she is showing her half of this whimsey shot. (Asked that I not show her face)

Here's my shot--I'm no great shakes on photography---Diana has yet to give me a promised lesson. I most enjoy the deep reds preceeding dark. My guest is named Debby---she stayed another hour enjoying the night and trading stories.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: So many wonderful surprises come to me that I'm tempted to believe "somebody up there likes me". My friend Pia says that open hearted travel is like pushing a button labeled SURPRISE. And then life --sure enough--surprises you--over and over. Some don't like surprises--but I do. One metaphysical philosopher---Redfield---declares that odd "coincidences" are the Universe's way of communicating deep truths to us. Need to think more about this.

Friday, November 12, 2010


THIS CARD GAME WOULD LEAD ME TO THE COMMONS----I'll explain: My friend Pete, touring me 'round Show Low, Az---shows me this work of art---capturing a real moment in time---explaining the Town's name and its equally odd main thoroughfare name: Deuce of Clubs. I could show you the plaque---but I'd rather poetize: MR COOLEY AND MR CLARK

Partners in ranching long years ago
came to the end of their rope;
personal or money, we can only guess
but devising one last hope:

They would play a game of cards;
both men finally agreed:
The winner could stay and thrive--
The loser must pack and leave!

They chose to play a favorite game:
A game called seven up;
requiring some amount of skill
and a little bit of luck.

Clark smiled to see his trey of clubs
and knowing low trump would win
The odds of Cooley drawing out
were somewhat less than thin.

So he uttered the words that named the city
"SHOW LOW" and laid it down.
What happened next would name the street
that marks the center of town.

For Cooley drew the Deuce of Clubs
And showed it in his hand.
Winning the house and all the cattle,
the ranch and all the land.

Cooley celebrating his luck
named his ranch Show Low;
The street he named Deuce of Clubs;
That's how it happened---now you know!
So what's all that to do with the Commons? Well, the 100.000 acres that the partners ranched were leased from the government---The National Forest---which we the people own and may use IN COMMON. (The seas and the air and the rivers are also a commons---how to manage them and use them is a somewhat tricky legal issue) Anyway, lucky me--My host Carol Berry has invited me to go see her favorite part of it---this little known backroad from Vernon to Greer.

The aspins are showing their color.
Green hill--top shrouded---with snow clouds?
A real "line shack"---have heard them mentioned often in cowboy movies--my first to see. I investigated and found signs of recent use. The Idea is to have shelter while way out here tending cows--- too far to drive back to the ranch each night.
I don't know why the forest naturally and abruptly gives way to grassland. But there you see it--almost a straight line. Anybody out there know the answer?
The frost line--clearly visible. My host is bold and may take us up there to see the seasons first dusting of snow.
And so she does! Isn't that frosting exactly what you hope to achieve on a christmas tree?
Looking down from Green Hill----more sharp division of forest from grass. We will follow that road to perhaps the last cowboy town in Arizona---Greer. It's there on the map but I defy you to find it.
There's part of it--perhaps the most famous part---a cowboy cafe--in constant operation for more than 100 years. Perhaps Cooley ate here. (I didn't think to ask) Their specialty is peach cobler--get it hot with ice cream.
Served by this happy guy whose friendly smile belies his villian mustache.
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: My readers of course know that the ultimate Commons is planet Earth. The hotly debated issue is whether the invisible hand of individual self interest would do a better job protecting our commons than government. I ask those advocating little or no Government oversight: What happened to the Buffalo? What happened to the billions of Passenger Pigeons? The fish off the Grand Banks? The big Redwood trees before government rescued a few of them? Face it--Human greed and rapaciousness is boundless---look what unchecked Individualism did to the trees in Haiti. We are savages unless checked by collective institutions (government). Hobbs was right (Leviathan) The grazing lands I showed would certainly be overgrazed were it not for enforced government regulation. Oh I wish I could get a semi-rational anti-government--right wing nut locked with me in a room and forced by referees to confront the folly of their position. I would make a Coolie/Clark wager with them--The loser would have to leave the country. (haven't seen me rant in a while--have you)
I'll give you a heads up on my next adventure: I intend to go down to Phoenix and experience the deep luxury of those clustered colonies of comforts called Sun City. The question I will ask: Is this really the good life? Any critical element missing?

Thursday, November 04, 2010


MY NOTION OF THE HEROIC LIFE IS LIVING BY ONES OWN HIGHEST INTUITION. So while I'm here, I will go searching for more examples of such persons. Perhaps the bushes abound with Thoreau-like personalities. I settle myself with another guest on the lot belonging to Carol--a long time friend.
Here she is outside her now-permanently-parked-and winterized home. Note the all-important skirting to keep fierce winter winds out. Of the 20 or so of my friends and acquaintances that have settled here--she is considered "the Mayor" for her knowledge and dedication to building a community spirit.
She loves her home and is superbly comfortable here. Windows all round look out on grandeur and serenity. (the White mountains in particular) Birds chirp and feed,unafraid, just outside her window. Because she's lived here many years now--I asked the obvious question--what has this lifestyle--this place done for you? Easy question for her---without hesitation she says: "My proudest achievement is my emotional health!" I could feel the truth of her answer--she is indeed composed, clear spoken and confident.

She takes me on a brief tour of her "community". This is the cabin that John built--with no pattern or design other than that in his head. Seems he got a great buy on a large pile of those timbers --brought them home and THEN considered what to do with them---began to stack them like leggo pieces---till this structure eventually took shape.
Carol takes us around front to rouse John for a tour. That's his Airstream there--where he cooks, eats and sleeps. So what's the Cabin for? Glad you asked.
I'll show you after you've met his pets---two adorable alpacas.
Meet John--also a long time friend--who came up to the high country and never came down. The cabin is a kind of entertainment center, den and library. On the far wall are a thousand good books but his eyes are now focused on his latest purchase---An entire menangerie of........
mounted animals. Yes, that's a real buffalo head and full-body mountain lion. John has seemingly discovered the entrepeneur inside himself---buying and selling all sorts of stuff at a nearby flea market.
Meet Pete: Another long time friend who came up here and established a base. Pete is the go-to guy for hundreds of his friends in all matters mechanical or electrical. Here, he is inventing a push button solar panel raiser.
A look inside his container. Almost everyone up here sooner or later forks out the $3000 for a delivered steel container using them as workshop, storage, etc. Pete has a 500 gallon water tank atop his.
Ah but here is the real proof of his genius---no doubt the best "tweaked" rig in history. It's electronics and mechanics are worthy of a separate blog. You cannot see his array of solar panels or the stored power in his battery pack--or his tools. Sufficice it to say, he sometimes shows theatre style movies for the group on the side of his rig--and has enough electrical power to weld metal.
And this is one of his cleverest ideas---and most useful. I'm not permitted to tell you precisely what for---but maybe you can guess. It is a brilliant joke that perhaps only full time RVers will get. It seems to be the buriel place of a dog named "Old Blue Boy." Which is the only clue I'm allowed to divulge.
More of the high desert "colony" gathered for dinner at the Show Low Elks Lodge. Does it surprise you that a majority of these lifestyle heroes are women. Each has a rig and a place to park it and lives alone. They get together just often enough to scratch the social itch and stay apart enough to enjoy privacy and solitude. In a unlikely environment --a bushy high desert--they have parked their RV's to create home and community.

RANDY PHILOPHIZES: Pathfinders and "first-doers" render big service to the rest of us---inspiring us to also step out. I'm deeply grateful to the trailblazers that inspired me to also take a step in the direction of my dreams. First and foremost---HENRY DAVID THOREAU---who defied the ethos of a whole work-obsessed nation to live in a tiny cabin by a pond---possess minimally---work only enough to eat---adventure widely---look inwardly---think deeply--and by so doing bless the world with his insights and example. His was no life of sacrifice but a dilligent quest for personal happiness. He has proved---almost beyond dispute--that the best thing we can do for the world is follow our bliss---BE HAPPY.