Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Modern Pioneers

Hi everyone. I don't usually post much non-fiction on the blog, but it's a new year so I thought we'd start it off with something different. 

Sheryl Karas and Paul Hood are a couple who needed to take a journey. Beginning in the New Age town of Santa Cruz, CA, Sheryl and Paul - spiritual counselors and healers - wound up in an ultra-conservative Mormon community in the eastern Arizona desert. Currently residing in Chico, CA, the two have published various works (Sheryl has three nonfiction books with small presses, and Paul has had several articles published in literary magazines and newspapers), and continue to work as healers. You can read more about their book (with links to buy!) here, or you may download a free copy of their e-book here. Enjoy!

Modern Pioneers (from Waking Up in the Great Recession Mormon Desert
By Sheryl Karas and Paul Hood

In a place like the Arizona outback you take advantage of community wherever you can find it so I accepted an invitation to participate in a brand new women’s group that had recently formed. It was VERY interesting!

First of all, you should know that I have always joined women's groups. I haven't been in one for awhile but they're often a great way to make new friends. This one is made up of a very diverse group of women. There are a couple vocal enough about their Mormon or Christian identities to make a point of letting people know. The rest aren't saying. There are Obama supporters and Obama haters, old women and younger ones. I think there's even a lesbian couple. But none of these differences have been part of the conversation. The commonality that holds us all together is that we all live in the desert in the 35 miles between Snowflake and Concho, Arizona. We're modern pioneers.

This area wasn't settled much 20 years ago and it's still sparsely settled to this day. The roads are mostly dirt. There's no electricity— you have to make your own. There's no water unless you dig a well. Telephone lines only recently made it out here and not everyone has one yet. Cell phones with a service that includes this area are a necessity.

The U.S. Agricultural Department calls this region a “near fatal environment” for growing plants. The earth here is essentially sand and rock and is full of minerals and salts far too harsh for most things to survive in. In the winter it freezes until April or May. In the summer it bakes. There's almost no rain except in July (monsoon season) when it rains nearly everyday. And the wind blows fiercely here, sometimes at 50-100 mph.

The women running the meeting have been here 15-20 years. The rest of us are newbies. “What do you need to know?” they sincerely ask. “We're here to help!” They know that if people hadn't lent them a helping hand they wouldn't have made it. And they started this group to band together and help each other out.

One woman wants to know what can grow here and how to do it: Add LOTS of soil amendments or truck your own soil in, get manure from Debbie or Barbara's chickens, build raised beds, shield them partially from the summer sun, and make sure you use lots of chicken wire to keep the rabbits out!

Another needs advice on building. Lots of patience apparently is required. Most everyone drags a travel trailer to their land while digging a well, building their road, and getting their solar and/or wind setup together. That and a gas-powered generator, at least as a back-up, is pretty much a requirement. They all hope to move into their “real home”—a log cabin, manufactured home or mobile, in a few months but the typical trajectory usually winds up taking years. Two or three years is pretty good. Ten years is not unusual. The women think the locals aren't too dependable when it comes to building and complain that the building department takes it own sweet time when it comes to inspections and issuing permits. But that's nothing compared to the stories of what happens when the companies who deliver manufactured homes and mobiles show up and discover the roads are all dirt that turns to deep mud in the rainy season.

“Oh yeah, everybody! Be sure to give us two telephone numbers for our mailing list! One for regular use and one for emergencies. When someone needs help we want to know who to call!”


“No, no, no. NEVER call 911!” Several women in the group can attest to the folly in that. The 911 service doesn't know their way around here. If you absolutely have to have an ambulance, get help from someone in the group to get you to the highway so the paramedics can find you!

And if you need the police? Call the sheriff directly. He, at least, knows where everything is. But don't expect him to come around too soon! The nearest police station for a lot of these women is 40 minutes away. If the squad car is “up on the reservation” it could take the better part of a day!

That's why everyone has a shotgun. And I mean everyone! Several of the newer women don't know how to use one yet but (except for me and the other very newest person) they all expect that it's a necessity. What if you meet a bobcat or a rattler or come across an injured horse or cow that needs putting out of their misery? And don't get them started on the packs of domestic dogs that sometimes run wild or the rare but not unknown violent criminal. At one point we were all sitting around learning how to make old-fashioned knitted slipper booties while discussing the best time to set up a firearms training as a women's group event. The two of us truly new ones were wide eyed with our mouths dropped open. The rest saw nothing surreal in the juxtaposition of these two activities.


  1. Wow wow wow... Hmmm... This reminds me of a lot of the patients that come to the Psych Hospital where I work... They may only live a couple hundred miles away, but it sounds like a completely different world-- where you tote a shotgun around because you might "come across an injured horse," WHAT?! Ha... This is great though. I'm all about getting away and experiencing new cultures, but sometimes you don't really have to go THAT far.

  2. Wow, that was absolutely fascinating! I loved this excerpt and bought the book immediately. Thanks so much for posting this. Wonderful insight into a unique community!

  3. It's honestly really fascinating to see(read) that people live that way. And so close to my own backyard. Thanks so much for sharing this, Sheryl and Paul! I'm pretty sure there are more stories there that could fill an anthology!

  4. Loved this! Sometimes you can't beat non-fiction.