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Let me tell you about the people in this high desert gulch — and the people connected to it, though they may be far away.

Neighbor M. needed the footer space dug for some retaining walls. Though M. is a tireless worker, this was clearly a job for a backhoe, not muscles.

Neighbor Joel also needed backhoe work for the septic system on his Secret Lair.

Without a word to Joel, M. arranged to have both jobs done at his own expense last Saturday.

The work was done by our neighbor L. If you read Joel’s blog, you’ve heard about “D. & L,” but what you may not know is that L, the backhoe owner/operator, is a small, tough, but fragile-looking woman.

She trundled over on her tractor and labored all day in blazing heat to dig Joel’s septic system and M.’s footers. Her pay? Well, all she would accept was a bottle of wine and $20 for fuel. (She and D. always say they’ll get their time paid back when they need others on some stage of their own monumental building project; but they rarely ever ask.)

Alas, as she rolled home, somehow she lost the $20 in the wide, sandy wash between her place and Joel’s. We saw her husband combing the sagebrush in search of it. As with a lot of us here, $20 is no small matter to D. & L. Especially when it’s about the only pay you’ve accepted for a hard day’s labor. He had to return home to tell L. he hadn’t found it.

I went to M. and offered to contribute a new $20 if one of the guys would tell L. they’d found it caught in a bush at the side of the wash. (Her pride might not have let her accept another $20.) But M. said no. It was already taken care of. L. would be reimbursed.

“If you want to,” M. said, “just get your $20 to Joel in some covert way.”

Since Joel’s net worth was, as of that moment, reduced to double digits, I took that to be just a kind thought and a good idea on M.’s part. Joel works very hard for the whole community but he has little and asks less.

But Sunday morning, I learned that M.’s wish for me to sneak the money to Joel was more than it seemed. Joel came by. He was on his way to D. & L.’s. He was going to replace L.’s lost payment, even though it meant giving up about a quarter of his resources. There was no arguing. Joel wouldn’t take anybody else’s money, not M.’s, not mine; he felt it was his responsibility because most of L.’s work had been done for him. And so he did.

Now comes the part about the neighbors who don’t live nearby, but are very much here in the spirit of the place.

The very next day I received $75 dollars in the mail. It was a gift from the ever-generous and good-hearted T. — and it came with a note telling me to split it with Joel. Now I happen to know that T. doesn’t have a lot, either. He lives simply on his own primitive homestead in another, greener state. But what he has, he shares in freedom. And in this case, he couldn’t have shared at a better moment. Joel is up to triple digits again and feeling bolstered by the gift (the second great, well-timed gift he has gotten from a blog reader far away, and one of many I’ve received with gratitude over the years).

T. once wrote as we were emailing about preparedness and survival, “Remoteness is not the answer. Community, peace, love and acceptance is the answer.” Although I wouldn’t put it in exactly those terms, he’s right, without a doubt, that the people you chose, and the people who chose you, are more important than the location you select or any bunker you might ever build.

There are times I hate this desert with a freaking passion. But I know what richness I have in the people in my life. This community is as great as anyone could ever wish.


  1. Devin
    Devin July 21, 2010 7:42 am

    Great post. Community is what we in America lack for sure. We are too concerned with keeping up with the jones or fearing the jones to actually make an attempt to build community.
    In Frith,

  2. Kevin Wilmeth
    Kevin Wilmeth July 21, 2010 10:03 am

    I needed that story this morning, Claire. Many of us are blessed with people like that in our lives; even if we may go long periods of time without seeing each other the spirit is still there.

  3. Matt
    Matt July 21, 2010 5:38 pm

    You are blessed with some great neighbors.

  4. Petra
    Petra July 22, 2010 8:39 am

    You can consider yourself a very lucky person, i have never seen such thing here…. so cherish every neighbor every day….Community…..something i can only dream of. Devin is so right, with “keeping up with the jones or fearing the jones to actually make an attempt to build community”.

  5. Bill Green
    Bill Green July 22, 2010 2:03 pm

    Thanks, Claire. It makes so much sense. I tend to get caught up in a self-sufficiency mindset and forget how I need other people.

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