“Whatever we take to them, will be used. Nothing will be wasted. They make sure that every family gets a share.”

Update from Baja California

We are in the open market in Ensenada. In about 18 hours we will head down the Baja California peninsula to Bahia de Los Angeles, affectionately known as “BLA”. Toni, (Antonio Resendiz Jr.) is helping us to choose food staples to take to the ranching families who live far into the interior, in amongst the tall cardon cactus and wild burro. A young man from the market appears with a 50-kilo sack of pinto beans slung over his shoulder, asking us where we want it. The van and Suburban are a few blocks away. Tyler jumps forward, “We can’t make him carry it all that way. Here, I’ll take it.” Tyler is strong and fit, but still he is winded by the time we get to the car.

Rice, beans, potatoes, oranges, onions, garlic – the list goes on. Everyone helps to shop, carry, and pack as much food as we can fit into the “Burb”. The food, and the Burb itself are making the long trek to “Cuatros A”, (Coo-atros-Ah) the ranch that Matilde and Andrea have lived on and worked their whole lives.

Cuatros A serves as base operations for the Big Horn Sheep Project. The ranch is gradually being converted to serve multiple uses. In addition to a working ranch it will host travelers interested in an adventure vacation experience that includes wildlife viewing, ranch life, incredible local food, and a chance to directly experience a bit of rural Mexico that has not changed for generations.

The project itself is a model in revitalizing rural communities using the resources that are available in abundance. Ranch life has never been easy. Neither has life as a fisherman. But the fisherman-turned-guides and the ranchers aren’t looking for an easy life – just a chance to live off of the land and the sea. When the land and the sea are diminished, poverty takes over.  The Big Horn Sheep Project is one answer to the declining fishery in the Gulf of California – and that decline has nothing to do with local fisherman. It’s a complex issue, and the Big Horn Sheep project is one response that can help to build a sustainable economy in a part of the world that has not changed for hundreds of years.

We started a crowdfunding fundraiser to bring food to the people, and also to provide the Suburban so they can bring clients to the ranch. We delivered it last night and the families involved in the project are so grateful and excited. I can’t tell you what a boost this is for the project, and therefore for the families and their ability to build a cooperative business. We have never been involved in micro loan financing to help start small businesses in the developing world. This is not technically a loan, but it is an investment and an opportunity to do a good thing. It is so gratifying to give the kind of help that Tom and I received so long ago when we were starting out. It only takes a few pieces of key equipment and a few dollars, and with imagination and hard work, an idea becomes reality that can have a profound effect on everything it touches.

There is still time to help. You can go to www.crowdrise.com/ftgbaja to make a contribution.

We are off to the ranch tomorrow. When we return, Ari will post another one of her wonderful blogs and tell you all about it. We’ll get some photos up too.

Till next time,

Los Angeles

We drove through Los Angeles today. All of a sudden, many childhood memories came whizzing by. It was weird driving through the city that I was pretty much raised in. I remember the pony rides in Griffith Park, and the endless hours at the train museum (it might not have been a museum, all I remember are trains and buying little magnetic trains that spelled out “Daddy”). I remember learning about the Ice Age from the La Brea Tarpits, where I would love watching scientists piece together skeletons in a huge viewing area. One job that I would love to have is to be putting bones together in that field. I remember Rocket Ship Park that has a metal rocket ship that I along with other kids loved to climb. The awesome Mexican restaurant where I would go outside and climb the rock wall comes to the front of my mind as I write this. I even somewhat remember the house we used to live in. That hot tub where I first learned how to hold my breath underwater. My dad was so proud of me.

The smells and the sounds and tastes are much stronger for me. I remember the delectable French toast sticks at CeCe’s, the Mac and cheese at the diner next door to the ice skating rink I took lessons at. I remember the sound of my tap-dancing shoes against the terra cotta tiles. I remember so much from my life in Southern California: all of those defining moments in my early life that made me who I am today.

I forgot what I had been missing. I miss all of those Wednesday trips to Disneyland, and that mother-daughter time which I now know was so important to me. I wish I could still have those days, ignoring all responsibilities and just going somewhere for the day.

I was overwhelmed with feelings so much so that I started crying. Here I was, back in the city that I learned to hate, feeling like I had found the missing piece of my soul. It felt like a much-needed revelation of who I am and where I came from.

Those feelings and memories were a nice way to start this long trip out. It gave me the chance to see the difference between how I was raised (in privilege) and how most people are raised here, in Mexico. I feel that without that blast-from-the-past, my mind would not be as open on this journey.

All the Empowerment!

The auditorium was so full it felt like the structure was bursting at the seams. There was the almost deafening sound of people chatting. And just when you felt like you were about to be overwhelmed, the beat of drums appeared. They appeared from one side of the stage, making their way to the center, all the while drumming. Drumming to let us know that it was time to listen. It was time to learn. Time to settle into a sacred space. Time to channel the beats in any way. Some people took it as the time to start dancing.

As soon as the two women finished drumming, a wave of calm seemed to roll over the room. We were ready to be empowered. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the tale of my learning at Bioneers.

Mike, Bryan, Sebastian, Annabelle, Chrissie and I, along with Alexis from Downieville, and Mia and Sierra from Sacramento all traveled down to the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael for the Bioneers Summit Conference. With the exception of Sierra, Mike and Annabelle, we were all new to the conference. I really did not know what to expect. I have been to conferences with my parents for their associations, so I was expecting it to be similar to these: mostly indoors, booths recruiting us to sign up to save one thing or another, a bar or three, and uptight, rich people dressed in suits and fancy clothing telling us about how much money they donated to “Save the Species”, trying to place themselves higher than the Average American. I was not expecting the conference to be full of people who were actually actively doing things for the environment, for women, for change. I was not expecting everyone to be in plainclothes, sipping fair-trade coffee, and talking to one another about their experiences and what they had seen.

I too want to share what I got out of the Bioneers experience, and how the new-found knowledge influenced my thinking on where we stand as humans and how to heal the wounds of the Earth. As a woman, I got a lot out of relating to the empowering female energy of the conference.

Eve Ensler, author of Vagina Monologues and a fierce women's activist.

Eve Ensler, author of Vagina Monologues and a fierce women’s activist.

On the first day of the conference, I listened to Eve Ensler talk about how Eve [the biblical one] knew what she was doing when she ate the apple. Eve knew that she was in the wrong garden and needed to find the nearest eject button. Ensler said that we, as a species, need to develop the capacity and vision to recognize that “Paradise is already here.” We need to stop searching for something we already have and are destroying in the process of our search. With the audience pumped, her final words were to, “Eat the f*****ing apple!” Eve Ensler was the first of many women to speak of female empowerment. And what a way to start the conference: not with a whimper, but with a bang!

Being a young woman, I of course wanted to go to every program about the “fairer sex”. Unfortunately seeing as I did not possess a Time Turner, I was unable to satiate my desire. I did make it to several talks.

One of the programs that was very intriguing to me was Archetypes in Every Woman. The panelists discussed their views on women’s roles and presence in myths and spiritual practices. I thought that it was interesting to hear three completely different women finding similarities in different cultural contexts.

Picture of Alixa of Climbing PoeTree

Alixa, one half of Climbing PoeTree

Continuing on the subject of strong women, there was a spoken word duo, Climbing PoeTree, whom I adored. They used hip-hop, art, words, and raw, beautiful power to bring up topics such as oppression, violence, interpersonal dynamics and self-doubt. I was in awe of how seamlessly they wove words to unheard rhythms, one voice uniting with the other, painting pictures with their arsenal of diverse terms.

Ari and Mia interview Luisah Teish

Ari and Mia interview Luisah Teish

The next new day started with the familiar beating of drums. After the main speakers, I, along with Mia, interviewed Luisah Teish, a woman who was one of the panelists for Archetypes in Every Woman. She had an aura of worldliness that humbled me from afar. Up close and conversing with her, she was a ball of warmth and endless knowledge. She spoke of her experiences as a child growing up in Louisiana – what she referred to as the Jim Crow south – while major changes in society were occurring. I wish I could bottle up the essence of her bravery and positivity and distribute that to the entire world.

The author Terry Tempest Williams

Terry Tempest Williams

On the final day, I was in awe of the stellar being that is Terry Tempest Williams. She is a very passionate advocate for the wild places that we used to call home, which are now disappearing. Her mastery of the English language made me feel what she was talking about in my heart, body, mind and soul. From her word-smithing, I was ready to lay my body down in protest of the environmental injustice that is taking place all over the world.

From the women at Bioneers, I have gained new insight into modern social and natural environments. All of these women come from different backgrounds and locations, but they seem to have a unifying theme: passionately empowering others to heal the Earth and ourselves and to mend our bridges to others.

The Unexpected Journey

Alex and Bryan carry a litter of trash out of the dumpsite. In the foreground is one of the many bags of trash we filled.

Alex and Bryan carry a litter of trash out of the dumpsite. In the foreground is one of the many bags of trash we filled.

The sounds of water rushing, people talking, laughing, and singing filled the air. Sweat dripped down tired, sore bodies. Muscles strained. People worked together in returning the landscape to its original form. Not only was the landscape changing, so was I.                                                                                                                                               

I have lived in the Bay Area for most of my life. I am used to the “bright lights, (semi) big cities”, where the only time people see and explore mountains is when they are in Lake Tahoe to ski. When I came to Synergia, I was in awe of how quiet it is up here. I started to forget the sounds of BART and sirens. I am continuously amazed at the overwhelming amount of stars in the sky. At a snail’s pace, I began appreciating the San Juan Ridge and its remote beauty. But I felt like I wasn’t completely synced with everything around me…

Loading up for one of our many trips across the river.

Loading up for one of our many trips across the river.

I am still grateful for the transformative opportunity I had to participate in the river cleanup. On September 17, Hanna, Mia and Oliver, youth from Sacramento, joined us along with Miles, and Cevin who came from Marin. It was really nice to see that other young adults care about the Earth. The Synergia staff, Mike, Nicole, Annabelle, Bryan, Sebastian, and I along with members from the Ridge community continued to clean up a section of the Middle Fork of the Yuba River that was overflowing with trash from an old miner’s shack. The miner’s dwelling was on the opposite bank from the trail so, like last year, we set up a haul line that spanned the river. We used a raft to transport trash to the loading area. From there, the waste was transferred to plastic litters that we hauled up the trail. I, for one, acquired a love-hate relationship to the litters; I definitely built some muscle but grew to dread the long, hazardous trek to the dump truck on the road. Over a two-day period, we carried out more than 2,000 pounds of trash.

Mia shows the camera some of the different types of trash we collected.

Mia shows the camera some of the different types of trash we collected.

It was amazing to see the range of trash we found. I lost count of how many cigarette lighters I uncovered. Like last year’s group, we found what seemed to be an endless stream of batteries. I felt like an archaeologist whenever I found a piece of the miner’s personal life. Just seeing the amount of detritus that one person can accumulate within a lifetime further cemented that I need to waste less and reuse all that I can. It resonated with me that, in a broader sense, no matter what measures we take to dispose of our garbage, it could still end up destroying nature and ruining historical areas.

The miner's shack

The miner’s shack

Mother Nature was clearly trying to reclaim that land. Plants were starting to grow over the trail; the metal scraps were decomposing into rust. We helped remove a blockage to the natural flow of restoration. This cleanup was the necessary kick-start I needed to feel more connected to this area. My muscles were so sore I was ready to collapse. Having sweated over this reclamation, I had a sense of ownership for the future of the project site. I felt like I was taking care of the Earth’s wounds and making sure that the “scar” would fade. This cleanup finally helped sync me to this region’s environment. By continuing a legacy of care-taking the land, I felt more at home here on the Ridge.

The tired and sweaty gang show off their bulging muscles.

The tired and sweaty gang show off their bulging muscles.

-Ari Frankel