Our big move: Part 4

by June Jewell | May 6, 2021
7 min read
Jewell's aspirational permaculture food forest is beginning to take root.

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in an occasional series of personal reflections by Jewell on the challenges and rewards of making a new life for herself and her family in Sierra County. The artwork and photographs illustrating this feature are also by Jewell.

We’ve been here eight months, and it feels as though we’re still unpacking and have lived here forever—simultaneously. For the most part, we’ve been keeping to ourselves, with the exception of the occasional play date for Calvin and Daisy and an impromptu trip to Phoenix to escape the wind, visit the zoo, make some purchases from IKEA and pick up art supplies for mama. The trip entailed a lot of time in the car, considering we very rarely go anywhere, anymore, but besides a few carsickness incidents, we all seemed to enjoy the change of atmosphere.

Arizona landscape by Jewell
This Arizona landscape by Jewell was inspired by a quick getaway to Phoenix to escape the spring winds.

My husband Nick, who I pictured would have a difficult time adjusting to the dramatic differences in climate and culture from our previous home in Virginia, is doing OK. He’s not overly ecstatic about his job. After years of paying his dues and climbing the ladder, he’s dropped back down several rungs. At least he has two days off a week (compared to one day in Virginia) and his stress levels here are practically nonexistent. He’s such an optimistic, happy guy, it’s just hard to see him less than thrilled.

The kids do need more playmates, and I’m working on that. For now, they do well being with mom all day, reading books, taking walks and hanging out in the garden. They help me water and can now identify some of the plants in our aspirational permaculture food forest.

Spring has sprung, and I’ve been working outdoors a lot. All of my living plants are in the ground, and nearly all of the seeds. Now we water and wait. The irrigation trenches for harvesting rainwater that runs in streams past our home in the historic district are mostly dug. We’ve also installed a laundry-to-landscape greywater system to help cut down on some of the watering needs of the front garden. I have a fair amount of work to complete before it starts getting too hot, but things are greening. Not only attempting to garden in the desert, but to do it using organic methods is going to be an uphill battle. It’s a journey I’m willing to take, though. 

I went overboard on my seed purchases. I basically bought 70 percent of the fruits, vegetables and herbs that I thought I’d eventually want to try. In permaculture, which emphasizes the principles of sustainability and self-sufficiency, diversity is key. So I laid in a wide variety of both edible and non-edible plants and seeds, including tomatoes, potatoes, pole beans, onions, peas, spinach, kale, carrots, sweet and hot peppers, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, watermelons, moringa, amaranth, sage, comfrey and more! I have to remember to give myself grace and accept that this is only the first of many seasons to come. Some things are not going to work out initially, and I’m OK with that.

Last fall, I started testing different composting methods, including vermicomposting (worm farming with red crawlers purchased online), hot composting (in a Soil Saver bin with kitchen scraps, spent brewery grains and a variety of “browns,” such as leaves, pine needles and twigs), and, finally, trench composting, which is burying kitchen waste with wood chips and cardboard.

The last method produced a huge number of pumpkin volunteers, which actually works out perfectly, as I have begun transplanting them into my “Three Sisters” beds. Native Americans planted corn, beans and squash—the Three Sisters—together because they help each other survive and thrive. The corn grows tall and acts as a trellis for the pole beans; the beans (arguably) fix nitrogen, and the squash covers the ground to prevent weeds and maintain moisture. 

I’ve also planted bare-root Granny Smith, Anna, Pink Lady and Fuji apple trees, as well as a bonanza peach and a rather sad looking pecan. Some of the trees were purchased online, but three of the apple trees were found at Walmart. They’re looking pretty happy now, but I’m doubtful they’ll produce fruit this year as some of the flower blooms have completely fallen off (or were blown off? The wind has been strong). 

Each tree hole has been filled with a concoction I’ve developed from watching way too many YouTube videos. It includes native soil, homemade compost, biochar, coco coir and worm castings. In addition, I have placed PVC pipe into the soil on a diagonal with the tree to channel water under it to aid in deep-root development. (Over time, the taproot will hopefully reach the water table), Prickly pear pads to provide water in between watering, dead wood and mycorrhizal fungi completed the soil amendment. Finally, I covered each tree with a heavy heap of mulch. Once they are better established and it starts to get hotter, I’ll add more mulch to retain as much moisture in the soil as possible. 

With each tree I’ve planted, I’ve also seeded a “guild” at its base, including some of the vegetables mentioned above and flowers such as sunflowers and nasturtiums. A guild is a collection of plants that help build soil, attract “good” bugs and, hopefully, deter “bad bugs.” When researching guild plants, I had to take into consideration hardiness zone for perennials, shade, placement, watering needs, etc. In Virginia, I just had a few things in pots. It was a lot easier to seem successful as my only real obstacle was keeping the birds and chipmunks from my berries.

So far, I’ve lost three strawberries to birds; they’re covered now. (We have also harvested a few and they were delicious!) A bunch of seedlings have withered due to lack of moisture. Although I water every day, I’ve learned that some plants can’t make it with one watering. I don’t want to baby things too much since I have so much else going on, and it’s so early in the season. I’d rather focus on plants that can make it through the heat now and later might require the help of shade cloth. If plants are dying now without shade cloth, I can only imagine how they would struggle through the hotter months even with shading.  

June Jewell and her artwork
The author and her “Mama and Child” portraits, which will be on exhibit at Desert Archaic during Saturday’s Art Hop

Somehow, I’ve found time to stick my toe in the art scene here in T or C. “Mama and Child,” a collection of my painted, block-printed and digitally illustrated portraits, will be featured at the Desert Archaic gallery on Broadway this Saturday during Art Hop. These works have never before been displayed in public together, and I will be so excited to see them, especially in the company of my own mama on the day before Mother’s Day. Please be sure to introduce yourself if you come out to see the show.  

Until next time, may your gardens be green, your home artful, and your heart happy. 


June Jewell, artist, mother and occasional Sierra County Sun blogger, moved across country to Truth or Consequences last summer with her husband Nick Russett, pre-school children Calvin and Daisy, a van full of stuff and a heart full of hope. June enjoys digging her hands and feet into her Land of Enchantment garden and painting in any windows of time she can squeeze open.

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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