{ the Clay Casa }

Disclaimer: This is a bit of a chicken show, and the words only loosely go with the pictures - enjoy !!   

 So I'm going to try and write this blog, something that I've already sat down three times to do ... amidst the broken treadmill of this move .. moving the studio, rebuilding the new one, and a lot of heavy lifting and splinters (most of our stuff is dumpster chic .. frayed, rough edged, and cumbersome.

   But we wanted to share this unique little place where Miss Winnie cast anchor over the winter, before we moved here, to the Hive, on the outskirts of town. It all happened in the periphery of a bicycle sale. Let's rewind: when we first moved to Flagstaff, we just lived in the forest - couldn't really afford anything more seeing as though we were working on a massive holiday order which wouldn't pay us until 30 days after they received, inventoried and stocked our candles. Driving miles off into the forest, on the edge of town, was a mixed bag of trying not to fall asleep at the wheel and crunch the bumper around a tall pine, and the squealing excitement of seeing a herd of deer or elk, literally, jumping the road in one stride ahead in our high beams. (Juwels did the squealing, which helped keep me awake.) Beautiful, but not super practical at 2am in the tailspin of a 13 hour day .. so from there, by random chance while buying work desks at a yard sale, we met a guy with a big ranch who rented us an awesome spot on the fence-line of the property, overlooking miles of state forest and within earshot of the night song of the coyote.

   It was our saving grace as the white winter was blowing in, but it was still a bit of a hike in our little two-wheel-drive truck which acts a lot like Bambie on ice when she's feeling cranky. And as we drove to work each day, with the new winter on the wing, I wondered why, seeing as though our house moves, we can't just move it a little closer to the studio... I scouted out little side-yards and backyards, a discrete cove in the lot beside our building (which was owned by the same guy who held the deed on the Roost, and seemingly managed by nobody..) but being busy, and not being totally comfortable asking a perfect stranger if we could squat in their side yard .. and occasionally use their hose, -- ha ha ha -- I just left the topic to a passive grumbling at red lights on our way to or from work.

   Which leads us here: the Clay Casa. As I said, this little spot was discovered while buying (well, bartering for candles) a shiny red road bike. A friend of ours had recently moved into a community house near our studio. He didn't have a room but rented a kind of improvised crawl space built overhead in a tall, vaulted hallway. His clothes hung underneath on a bar and lie folded in homemade cubicles. I never went up there or peaked my head up from the top of the ladder which was screwed into the wall, but I liked it instantly - a tree fort - indoors, with a skylight (where he hung a small solar panel), in a cloud of warmth from the wood stove, and for less than half the price of a room ; )

   As he showed juwels around the place (I was at the Roost, stirring the honey pot) she said, "Man .. too bad we couldn't just pull the Winnie back here. This place is awesome ; )" Without much discussion, he said he'd ask the roommates. Juwels came back with the bike and excited about something that I couldn't quite understand. People living on "shelves" chickens, ducks, and Miss Winnie. "I think I found our winter spot," she said. Before I had even poured my next batch of candles, Alex was standing next to the melter, saying, "Yeah - they said it was cool. For the winter, since we're not going to be growing anything then ... but .. you might have to move here and there so they can work the soil." 

   We said that was fine, and then he said, "So ... what do you guys think is fare? For rent?" I'm never good naming a price for something like that, and juwels is worse. I ended up saying something like $150 per month, and he said that was too much, and that $100 would be better, and that they'd feel strange even charging that for a spot in the yard ... 

   So this is the place (was the place). It's a tall old house on a good sized lot with two full kitchens, a wood stove, a ton of garden space, and as you'll see .. many chickens scratching and a'peckin.

Caption: "Doink!"

   Just getting to the space, from maybe 6 miles away, was an ordeal. After our episode in the forest .. with the fire, breakdown and all that, I'd happily parked the Winnie and stopped messing with the engine. We hired a local guy to work on her, so we could drive on to our next spot. He's very affordable but moves very, very, very slowly ... or that's not totally true, he moves, but he's always 300% overbooked. We thought the gas tank was full of gunk from the past 35 years, so he pulled it out and filled it with some kind of cleaning acid, but when move out date was upon us .. the gas tank was nowhere to be found, so ... most likely illegal, I just took the hanging fuel hose, ran it up through the air conditioning vent holes and into a plastic 5 gallon gas jug in the passenger side area.

   As she likes to do, the Winnie decided to put her brake lights into full-on strike mode, and as I was back there with the screwdriver, wiggling the connections "It's working .. oh, wait ... nope. Oh - there it goes. It's working .. ah, hell .." I noticed that the registration was expired. By a day. One day. We decided that juwels should drive the Winnie, and that I would follow behind in the truck. I could create a little buffer between the lights, should they strike again, and any local cops. Plus - if she did get pulled over, they'd probably hassle her a little less than me..   

   The drive went off without a hitch, but when we got to the house, the Winnie wouldn't fit. I had to chop down a small tree (which I think was actually just a batch of suckers that had sprung up from a root system of a nearby tree, but I thought it was a crumby way to start .. a sign?) At the same time, on my knees at the edge of the pavement, I met two sets of the roommates .. "Hi .. nice to meet you" Chop, Chop, Chop. "I think it will grow back." Chop. Chop. Chop. They told me they'd been planning to take it out anyway, but I guess I got to be the one to wince while I worked. (sorry ... )

   Tucked in, finally, we made cookies and chai. We pressed the window coverings up in the windshield and blacked out the curtains. Their next door neighbors, another tall community house full of black-clad anarchist musicians, were notified of our stay, not so much asked but notified, and they didn't seem to care about anything at all, even though we were clearly bleeding over into their yard ; ) But as far as the other neighbors and city workers - mum was the word. Sneaking bags in and out, and spying on the street from the porthole window beside the bed made me feel like we were living on the streets again, and I liked it. There's a certain edge and primal energy to it that sharpens your senses and brings presence.    

(Chicken reach)

(Chicken Vouge)

This is the alpha ... the Boss.

   There were parties and pot lucks, fires in the pit, stories of travels, and I spent a lot of time watching the chickens. I think I might have been a farm dog in a past life ... or a Rooster. Their social structure intrigues me. The alpha, her hench(wo)men, and all the way down to the skiddish one with most of the feathers pecked off her rump. One day, I was sitting in the yard and I had let all the girls out into the freshly tilled beds to hunt for grubs and choice bits of compost, and I noticed a few things: one: the alpha went back onto the pen first, full and content. She wasn't a better worker than any of the other girls, but rather, she'd wait until one of the underlings had scratched up a good bit of soil, past the dry stuff and into the moist life of the earth ... and then she'd just run up and chase them away from their claim. Standing in the buffet of another's work, she'd pick through the dirt with little effort while the chased bird would start over, burning more energy to do her little two-clawed dance for worms. In the pen, I'm sure the head hen got the best bites of food and the most of it, and in the field she had a unwitting crew that were not paid, but rather, spared and safe, at least for the moment..

   Another bit that I found interesting was when the girl with the picked tail end suddenly stopped her work and watched the sky. First she was silent, but then she sounded some kind of chattering alarm. Something that I hadn't heard before. Most of the other birds where back in the pen, talking about the luster of their feathers and how they'd like to wear their nails for the weekend, but she was still in the middle of the yard as the shadow of a hawk swept across the dirt. She bolted for the pen, in her T-rex kind of way, and the rest of the flock, ran the ramp for the coop. I felt bad for this bird in the past when I saw her picked on or sleeping alone at the far end of the coop as the others cuddled, and I thought that, since she had been bullied and put on such high alert, the flight reactor in her brain was such a raw nerve that she'd always be the first to spot danger, and weather communal or involuntary, she'd alert the rest of the flock and keep them safe. They'd made a tool of her once again. Was she stronger for it? For always having to dig her holes twice? Was she sharper for it too? And would this burden ever amount to an explosion against the Queen .. who was all fluff and feathers anyway? I'm sure Orwell would have something to say about this..

   Towards the end of our stay there, the crew inside (mostly college students - rock climbers, bike fixers, dumpster divers, singers, artists, travelers, and seekers) did come out and divide up out the harvest plots. Potatoes here. Herbs there. Squash, greens, root veggies, and all sorts of other organic goodness. They collected the chicken eggs and ate the ducks. We stocked the house with candles, and enjoyed our car-less stroll to work each day. 

A "cob" planter - made from clay and hay and old bottles.

   This is the womb for the Spring sprouts and starts ... Flagstaff can be sunny during the day and below freezing at night, so they trap a pocket of warm air in here by sun and keep everybody tucked in at night. The water bottles you see at the bottom hold some long-lasting radiant heat as well ; )

Compost in it's many stages - from coarse to fine.

The hen house.

Insulated with pine needles and leaves ; )

And Miss Winnie, no-so-discreetly tucked away on the side yard. 

Grocery getter ; )

   One last story that I want to share. While we were at the house, maybe by coincidence or maybe by example, a young couple who shared the "best room" upstairs, decided to buy an old 70's trailer. After we moved out of the space, they were going to slide their trailer into our old spot, work on it for a while, and then hit the open road and .. live. We toured their new soon-to-be home, gave them some pointers and an open channel of dialogue when the time came for the monkey wrench, pipe saw and electrical tape. They bought a truck, too. One capable of towing the beast. We asked them where they might go, and what their plans were for finding money on the road. There's always work - gigs - strawberry picking or cider to be pressed, but it's not easy work, and in my mind, a creative hand is by far the best way to work on the road. I've seen all types of it from the fine art to the glorified "spange-ing" .. street talk for "spare changing". They weren't sure, but the girlfriend (who in some way reminded me of Bruce Willis' girl in 'Pulp Fiction' said that she'd like to get a ukulele and play for the people. The boyfriend smiled and said that it would take a while to learn to play ...

   Around the time that we were going to be moving out, they seemed a little stressed and hurried, which was not their normal vibration. We had said we might be out in the middle of the month, but that it might also be till the end depending on how our studio move was going. Their trailer was sitting in the driveway at a bit of a tilt, and I thought they might have been anxious to get into our space and wondering if we were dragging out feet, but the day we moved on for good, I found out that it had nothing to do with us.

   We needed them to pull out of the way so we could drive out, and as the Winnie warmed up, I went over and asked them what their plans were for the renovation - if they were still thinking about giving it a year on the side of the house, renovating before their departure, and the boyfriend said, "Well .. that's the thing: we're having a little trouble with the landlord. I guess he was asking about the RV on the side of the house and our trailer in the carport, and somebody told him that you guys were living there, and that when you left, we'd be pulling in next. He says it's too much liability, so we can't stay."

   "Shit - I'm sorry."


   "So what are you going to do?"

   They talked about trying to find somebody with land that would just let them park for work trade. And I warned them that some people's idea of enough work for the trade can distort, and you can end up enslaved, and that if there was some way to make a couple hundred dollars, on their own terms, that it was a lot better just to hand over a few hypothetical pieces of paper and keep it black and white. Knowing when they were on the clock and when they weren't. I knew about a place where they might be able to park and asked if they were able to come up with 2 or 250 dollars a month, and the boyfriend said, "See - that's why we got this thing," pointing to the street where they'd just parked the trailer, "so we could live free." They both have jobs, but it's just the idealistic philosophy of it - living free should be free.

   It's an interesting thing - Free. I always look at nature in respect to who we are and what should be. The birds aren't free .. working every hour to fuel their bodies and their offspring. The bees are free to harvest up to 2000 flower a day for themselves, and the community. Everything alive must struggle for life, territory, safety, repeat. Have we, as humans, evolved to a place where we can fulfill our needs and still have the majority of our lives for pleasure or philosophical exploration? I don't see it .. do you? I'm guessing we're more like those chickens at present .. . 

   I don't have the time to pick it apart now, but nothing's free ... besides maybe the air that we breathe, and even that, involuntary that, takes the power to inflate our lungs, lift our chests, and regulate. It burns calories, and those calories must be replaced. Time is money. The body is a machine, and the fuel is fat, carbs, fiber, ... inspiration, understanding, grit, and on and on. Organic? Roll up your sleeves ..

   Even if you live on the streets, and we did for a long time, your gas to move around enough to avoid parking tickets and stay on the 'even steven' with the rent paying neighbors so they don't call in the cavalry - that's money. Your time and energy, finding the right spots to park where you won't be towed away in your bed, picketed with notes on your windshield wiper, that's time. I love to work, and can get a little stir crazy when I'm not, I just think it's interesting ..  We all sell our time, pieces of our lives - doesn't matter if you're pouring candles, mopping floors, or selling doormats, the real trick is to find the best way to do it. Something you love, with meaning .. a place where some of your thoughts are still your own, and you feel alive.

  Something struck me about being in their presence. The fear and uncertainty of it - being pushed out of the nest by the real world for the first time. Sure, the landlord doesn't want to take any risks or run a foul with the city .. and in his mind, the house is priced just fine for the rooms it supplies (never mind that most people are subletting half their room to strangers to buy back some of their hourly in exchange for some white noise of a snoring body on the opposite side of the room.) So why should anybody be living in the yard.

   I felt their whole world opening up. Saw it on their faces, that introspective look when the person you're looking at is planning in an imaginary world. I told them, "It's happening now. This is the first of it - you have to be fluid, flow around the boulders, or they'll crush you. This life isn't setup for free spirits, and there will be plenty of people out there to stop you. There's laws written to stop you .. welcome to the gypsy life." I wasn't trying to antagonize them, and said this all with a smile .. and a bit of excitement for them - like a dad, letting go of the back of the bicycle seat and watching that swerving first ride on a summer's day. I think they felt that and came back, and I saw him exhale and they smiled at each other.

   I don't know what they're going to do. They talked about living in the forest while the weather was nice, and that could work. .. They do have a dog, and she's a student, and needs internet access to complete classes. We talked about forest roads and wifi in the woods (which stinks in my experience) and which provider might have better service ...  and then I wished them well, climbed into the growling Winnie and rumbled off.

   Until next time ; ) 



    .... we'll see you all soon at our new studio, the Hive ; )


  1. always love every installment and crave the next installment
    like an information-starved hermit sneaking out from her cave in the hills. it's true, nothing is free. it takes a while to learn to love work, but it happens, then work becomes a beautiful thing if you let it. i love how you took on the role of "the dad". if you were my dad and i was young, being the more stubborn type of young person, i wouldn't have listened to a word you said. then learned it all the hard way. which is exactly what happened. and could i really pass on what i have learned the hard way to anyone who would listen? i don't know.

    1. ha ha ha ; ) lovely lily - I want to meet that cave dwelling hermit, bet she'd have some interesting insights for a world-sponge like me. Many things become clear in the darkness .. but yes, the hard way is the best way, although it's nice to at least know that you're not the only one once you finally see the writing on the wall. I'll have another installment soon - maybe today ; )