Thursday, November 1, 2018

Dia de los Muertos 2018

In the spirit of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos I am taking time today to reflect on two souls that touched my life and passed from this vale of tears in the last 12 months:

Chad Knepp (Oct 21)
Chad died of cancer of the gall bladder. It was discovered last April and did not respond well to treatment.

Our paths first crossed when he visited Sandhill Farm as a prospective member back in the late '90s. We got along well and he joined the community, but it wasn't long before he grew restless. While he liked what Sanhill has doing, he wanted the freedom to develop homesteading initiatives outside of central planning—because Sandhill was small, about eight adults at the time, our habit was to get full group approval before launching any project, especially if it entailed land use or building construction. Chad had lots of ideas about sustainability that he wanted to try out, and he chafed at being constrained by the need to get group approval every step of the way.

When we talked (at length) about allowing members more freedom to pursue dreams on community property, his request encountered push back from another member who wanted equality of opportunity. They were reluctant to extend to Chad the independence he requested, in part, because they didn't have the same homesteading skills. If they were not be able to make the same use of such freedom, then they didn't feel good about Chad having it—if all couldn't have it, then none of us should have it. Ouch. While I experienced this as the weaponization of equality, and left me both sad and disturbed, Chad's request was turned down.

To his credit, Chad knew better than to push, so he bided his time until he was able to join forces with Alyson Ewald and others to create Red Earth Farms in 2005, which was a community of homesteads, located on 76 acres adjacent to Dancing Rabbit—about three miles from Sandhill. At Red Earth, Chad could get most of what he wanted, experimenting with sustainable agriculture and permaculture systems on his own leasehold, with wide latitude to do things his way, so long as he operated within broadly defined ecological parameters. Even better, Red Earth had much lower expectations about the frequency of group meetings, and that matched well with Chad's predilection. He wanted to do, much more than to talk about doing. As frosting on the cake, Red Earth was close enough to Sandhill to maintain personal ties there.

The thing about Chad that I found most attractive was his creative, entrepreneurial energy. He stirred the pot. While this proved to be too much for the risk averse elements of my community, and thus Sandhill was ultimately not a good fit for him, we did not let that get in the way of enjoying each others' company.

Chad had a strong connection to family—both the one he was born into and the one he developed at Red Earth. One of my fondest memories is a time about 10-12 years back when Chad needed a last-minute ride to Iowa City, in order to rendezvous with a brother to drive to Michigan for a family health emergency. I volunteered to drive him, which meant a six-hour round trip starting at 10 pm and ending at 4 am. Uffda. While the drive home was brutal, it was worth it for the drive up—a rare chance for three hours of wide-ranging conversation with my neighbor. It was an uninterrupted chance to catch each other up on our disparate lives, which intersected in our deep connection to sustainable living.

There weren't that many of those long conversations, but the ones we had were precious.

I'll miss him.

Zeus (Nov 17)
Zeus was my son Ceilee's faithful dog, and a canine I bonded with inordinately. Ceilee carefully selected him from a litter after being impressed by the even temperament of his father, who lived next to him in Columbia MO. That was back in 2006.

Zeus was a pit bull/boxer mix, and Ceilee put in the hours to train him as a puppy—an investment that paid off in 12 years of faithful behavior.

Special memories:
o  I recall visiting Ceilee at his house in Columbia one morning. I'd arrived before he'd gotten up, and when he opened his bedroom door, Zeus boiled out and raced down the hall to where I was standing. I had just enough time to brace my footing before 60 lbs of enthusiastic puppy barreled into me and started licking my face. Good morning!

o  When Ceilee and Tosca moved to Las Vegas in 2007, they first lived in an apartment, and there were slobber marks all along the street-facing window in back of the couch in the living room, because Zeus would sit there all day, patiently watching to see when "Daddy" would come home.

o  Early in their tenure in Las Vegas, Ceilee and Tosca took Zeus with them on a visit to Tosca's grandparents (Juanita and Bob), for a party they were hosting at their well-appointed home in Henderson (a Vegas suburb). As the weather outside was hard on Zeus, Ceilee asked if the dog could sit quietly on the welcome mat inside the door, in the same room with the party. Juanita was skeptical about how that was going to work out but gave it a chance. When Zeus sat patiently for 60 minutes without moving—because Ceilee had not released him—Juanita went up to Ceilee and told him Zeus was welcome in her house any time. She'd never seen a dog with that degree of self-control.

o  One day Ceilee and Zeus visited Sandhill and we were eating lunch on the front porch. Ceilee gave Zeus a cow thigh bone to chew on while we ate. At the end of the meal we discovered that Zeus had systematically devoured the entire bone, even as we humans demolished our sandwiches. When I contemplated the power in his jaw muscles to accomplish that it occurred to me how easily Zeus could take off someone's finger—which he never did. He was always in control, and had an incredibly soft mouth. When children poked his face, he just backed away. He was never aggressive. I'm not sure I know any humans with that degree of self control.

For the last dozen years it had been a special ritual for me to greet Zeus as the first thing whenever I visited Ceilee, and we spent untold hours huddled together on the couch awaiting Ceilee's return at the end of his work day.

My life is a little emptier without Zeus, and his unconditional love.

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