This is the final part of a saga. A saga is a prose narrative usually written in Iceland between 1120 and 1400, dealing with the families that first settled Iceland and their descendants, with the histories of the kings of Norway, and with the myths and legends of early Germanic gods and heroes.
This saga is not that kind of saga. It is a modern prose narrative that resembles a saga. And in modern times a saga can also be just a long, detailed report. It can even be about a simple person like myself. Or even you!
This saga is about my personal journey toward the happy state of greenness. If you’ve gleaned the previous parts of my saga report, you also know it includes the persons of my partner Beverly, male person off-spring Joel and female person off-spring Wendy.We ended up last time with our having just settled into an old and somewhat run-down homestead on the verge of West Texas. To be more precise we are located near Reagan Wells (pop. 25 more or less), some 30 miles north of Uvalde, Texas. A high desert region of rugged natural vistas, crystal clear brooks and natural limestone-bed springs, this is certainly one of the more scenic areas of the legendary Texas hill country. It’s known far and wide as “the country of eleven hundred springs”.
Though many consider us to be somewhat remote, we’re easily accessible. On the other hand, when it takes eight and a half years just to get a phone, you do get the feeling you aren’t exactly on the “beaten path”!
We came here back in 1976 to begin an alternative lifestyle. We were determined to live our lives with as minimal an impact on our planet as possible . . . our plan rested on two main components: a homestead located in a remote, unpolluted area and a family business that would not only support us but also be very much a different sort of creative adventure; one that would embrace social and environmental responsibility and seriously pursue excellence in both craftsmanship, design and so on. Once we finally found our homestead, a pocket full of dreams served as our business plan and $400 cash comprised our “seed money”; but, what we lacked in the areas of strategy and funding, we certainly made up for with an abundance of blind, naive determination!
The dreams I held close to my heart seemed very much like burning visions rather than mere hopeful fantasies. What kinds of dreams? Well, if you read the earlier part of this story, you know I worked out many ideas regarding the kinds of things we could do to make a living on a small piece of land, before my family and I actually moved. But above all else, it was going to be green from the inside out!
For example, I thought it would be delightful to fashion wonderful things from native Texas timber. And I felt called to explore “alternative” uses for our native Juniper (cedar). Yet I vowed to do this without ever cutting down a single living tree! I also hoped to find and promote others who produced wonderful alternative goods. I dreamed of publishing books and doing hundreds of other “impossible” things! But more than anything else I wanted to squeeze something awesome out of every remaining drop of my life. Yet do it with total environmental and social consciousness . . .
To do that, one needs room to breath and the freedom to follow the “less traveled” road. Down that path I found everything I’ve ever imagined and more. Perhaps that’s why every day seems filled to the brim with wonderment and the never ending chance to grow and learn!
For example, once we actually got our shop set up in an old buggy barn we explored many new ideas and ultimately discovered some exciting ways to work wood. Like fashioning boxes and chests of drawers so that every part is “just where it grew in the tree”! Or “turning” deadwood into bowls, vases, candle rests, kitchen things and much more. We batched up old-fashioned wood filler to match the grain of any timber and our natural finish wasn’t too bad either!
We created our famous Wolf Staffs and founded The Hummer Glass Works where we recycle corning glass into what came to be know as Friends of Light: hummingbirds, bluebirds, cardinals, whales, dolphins and much more!
Yes, miracles do happen! They occur daily for those who dare to think the possibilities of life are endless and that all we need do is sincerely seek what is good and we will indeed find!
Over time, we came to call our search into the outback of creative doings Hummer EarthCrafts. To us, “EarthCrafts” are objects that flow from the minds and hands of master artisans who share in a marvelous mutual celebration of form and texture; creative hands, eyes and hearts bringing forth wonderment from the natural things of the earth. Clay, fiber, wood, stone and fire, to name a few, are fused and fashioned into objects that “hum” the primal earthsong of light, life and love! Such work begs touching and cherishing.
Speaking of raw materials, our wood lot gives new meaning to the word! Therein you can see most every sort of timber . . . mesquite, juniper, pinon pine, walnut, cherry, ebony, mahogany; and get this . . . they’re all native to these very same hills! But there’s something very important to keep in mind when visualizing all this marvelous material!
To date we’ve fashioned over 156,000 pieces without cutting a single living tree. We use only dead wood or trees which have fallen due to weather conditions or other natural causes. And, a full 95% of our raw material is utilized, which means almost nothing is wasted!
I’ve already mentioned our interest in learning more about juniper, or cedar, as it is called through out the Texas hills. I knew it had been used to repel insects and preserve freshness for centuries. But the common way was to make chests out of it, or line closets and drawers. Our first product was a bag of small cylinder-shaped pieces with a hole drilled in one end. Initially we called them “natural mothballs,” but one of our dealers soon suggested the name be changed to “Texas” Moth Balls. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Turned out we inadvertently pioneered an industry within which we remain the oldest and smallest company in the world. Nevertheless our cedar products are still the only ones fashioned by hand from deadwood. In recognition of this we received the coveted (by us anyhow) Earthwise rating in Debra Lynn Dadds’ Nontoxic, Natural and Earthwise book and 1991 consumers guide.
We’ve also added a host of other aromatic cedar products over the years. Even the oil is used to make incense and natural air fresheners. And that’s just the beginning!
Our lines and those we came to distribute now include thousands of safe and healthy items: cleaning and maintenance goods, pet care and natural pest control, personal care and health products, housewares, yard and garden goods, energy and water conservation items, food and drink, clothing and accessories, toys and gifts, books, magazines, music and even videos! We now work with over 100 producers of the worlds best alternative answers to most everyday needs!
Earlier I mentioned publishing. Well we currently have eight (8) books in print and many more in the works. The best known are Ezra’s Little Books. Ezra’s Little Cedar Book is a fascinating study of juniper and it’s properties gleaned from the writings of the ages. It also answers the question “Why cedars aren’t really cedars at all!”
Our wood crafts is certainly one of the most popular lines we offer. So popular in fact that almost everything is sold before it’s even made. Worksheets direct the activity at our Craft Works Shop, or the Turning Works. As each assortment is carefully hand-fashioned, a few extra pieces are done for our visitors to enjoy!
Our WonderWorks Showroom is an old clap-board bunk house built by “cowboy carpenters” back around the turn of the century. We’ve spent years making it an unforgettable wonderland of wood and a showplace of safe and healthy goods.
During various times of the year we offer apprenticeships through the Hummer School of Wood. Studies include beginning, intermediate and advanced wood turning as well as band sawn objects, native deadwood selection and appreciation. Yet everything centers around utilizing only non-living timber.
All in all we seem to have a fairly interesting operation; but needless to say, none of this happened over-night. We’ve paid our dues with buckets of blood, sweat and tears, mixed in with a good portion of laughter and hard-knocks learning! Looking back over the comedy of blunders which first led us to the quaint, old homestead we lovingly named “The Hummertage”, I can only shake my head in wonder.
Though many things have contributed to what we laughingly refer to as our “success”, one main factor stands out above all others: We just down-right refused to quit or give up, no matter what. Though I would like to say we faced every challenge with a sense of determination and assurance, this would not be true. Many times we felt nothing if not hopelessness and despair. But we were always, always determined to continue. Even at the worst of times, after allowing for a brief a session of wound-licking and a wallow or two in self-pity, we’d roll up (or down) our sleeves and simply do what needed doing.
We’ve known the emotional and physical extremes that dreams are made of. We’ve been so close to broke and broken that things simply couldn’t get worse. Yet they did! But always, always we kept on keeping on. And a good thing too! Because low and behold, just around the bend there always lay some wondrous blessing or undreamed of solution, hidden in the most unexpected place.
Over the years we’ve dug ditches, set foundation posts, erected signs, laid pipe and put in a water system that taps the Dry Frio River. We’ve wired and plumbed old buildings and put in a road. We’ve even put up a new building, and enlarged and improved the old ones!
What’s “green” about all this? Well everything! We’ve recycled almost all the building materials we used. Sources include old buildings that have fallen or are falling down, and nature, where an abundance of natural materials can be found without killing or altering; trash piles at building sites, landfills and you name it! There’s a world of discarded stuff out there if you are willing to go look for it!
We chose this area of the world, which is high desert country, because it’s like a giant solar kiln. When a tree dies here, it just dries or seasons and then lays there waiting for a fire or flash flood. The air is so dry, decay is rare. And there is a world of available rock, clay, sand and much more.
All of these materials have been utilized by us to create a green business and a green homestead. It’s a work in progress that will perhaps never end. We are seriously into un-landscaping at the moment, which is our word for utilizing native trees and plants and other materials throughout the yard and grounds. We are always improving and greening our facility.
While all of this is going on we are constantly seeking and learning new and better ways to hand-fashion native timber! Ways to make our production process more efficient. Ways to live greener and with even less impact.
Here’s some more examples of how we keep our impact small and our consumption of outside goods and services low . . .
- We pump water from a crystal clean stream into our buildings and then drain all the gray water out into the yard and garden. No need for a well and our system uses less than $20 of electricity per year!
- We installed a septic system that drains the water and utilizes natural enzymes to convert the solid waste matter to harmless gases.
- We also supplementing our water usage by catching rainwater and storing it for bathing, watering the garden, etc.
- We grow as much of our own fruit and veggies as we can in an organic garden. We are vegetarians. By growing our own, we keep our need for purchases goods and sundries to a minimum.
- We purchase our phone service and electricity from co-ops that return all profits to members.
- Our total electric bill for a 10,000 square foot facility that includes our home, averages about $85 a month. This is due to energy saving devices, efficient lighting and frugal simplicity in the way we heat, cool and live.
- We heating with wood stoves that use the scraps produced in our workshops; this also helps keep our utility bills low.
- We all avoid using fossil fuel vehicles whenever possible and keep our usage to a bare minimum. Though it is 60 miles round trip to any kind of city, we religiously go to town only one day each week . . . our company owes a single small truck that gets excellent mileage and is driven less than 4,000 miles a year. I personally ride in a fossil fuel vehicle only two or three times a year.
- We use only safe and healthy products to clean our facility and home; by everything possible recycled and recycle everything possible.
- We also learned about computers and copiers and how to repair almost every kind of tool, machine and gadget. We did and do design and print all our own literature and business forms. We’ve come up with systems to deal with everything from cash flow to production to accounting.
- We’ve been in business longer than any other national distributor of safe and healthy alternative products and were one of the first to practice “Just In Time” delivery. JIT, as it’s come to be known, saves resources and energy in every phase of both manufacturing and distribution; the result is a significant reduction in waste.
- One of our most important and appreciated innovations is a decidedly different “catalog”! We call it our “never-ending” catalog because it’s more or less perpetual. Most catalogs are printed on slick, glossy paper and mass mailed several times a year to names gleaned from rented mailing lists and other sources. Oddly enough, the bulk of this “Junk Mail” actually does reach its intended recipients; sometimes in duplicate or triplicate! After little more than a quick glance, however, most of it immediately joins the rest of the trash in the recycling bin, or gets hauled to the landfill. Just think of the resources spent to plan, design, produce, deliver, and discard this mountain of printed matter!?
- Our “Never-Ending” Catalog is very different! For starters, we don’t even print a “bound” catalog; and we also never do mass mailings. Our material only goes to those who request it. Simply, our catalog is a series of sheets, punched to fit any standard 3-ring notebook. This way, customers choose the kinds of products to include in their personal “edition”. Based on their selections, we send new material or replacement sheets only when they are needed. Our catalog “never ends” because it never needs to be thrown away yet it’s always current! We think this is a better way!
- As consumers, we all have the power to bring about positive, responsible change. Using safe and healthy alternative products in our homes, offices and in the workplace is a great way to make a difference! However, we no longer consider this a voluntary choice, but rather an essential key to achieving and maintaining individual health and happiness.
We’ve also learned an awful lot about the all important subject of marketing. What an exciting time we’ve had with this! Our yearly visitor count has gone from one person a week to an average of over 1,000 a year! We now have customers in every state. Our hand-fashioned wood work and other products are sold in shops and galleries worldwide. We ship thousands of parcels annually and drop-ship thousands more! Though we started the business in 1976, it really didn’t begin to fly until a few years later. That’s when we were finally “discovered” by the good folks in the media. For some reason or another they thought we were “newsy.”
Seems we offered a modern day version of the “little family trying to survive out on the prairie”. We had no phone, no TV, no air-conditioning. We hauled all our drinking and cooking water; wood stoves were our only source of heat, and so on.
Happily things still remain much the same today, only we did finally get good water by tapping into the stream I mentioned above (10 years wait) and phones (8 and a half years) ……… and even UPS service!
Perhaps these are some of the reasons why our story has been aired on both television and radio. We’ve also been featured in hundreds of newspaper stories, magazine articles, books and other publications. This wondrous exposure brings us scores of new friends each year from all over the world.
Somehow, we’ve found a little magic in these hills. It fills up our lives with wondrous creative energy. By nurturing this force and applying it abundantly to our work, we hope to fashion objects that will indeed “quietly go about The Masters work, softly humming the eternal tune” for generations to come.
Just after setting up shop over 24 years ago, I scrawled these words as part of my paltry attempt to portray this enchanted land, “. . . (it’s) not far from the Frio Canyon, deep in the Texas hills, and the country of eleven hundred springs. The vibrations are good; cosmic creativity abounds amid the air, the water and the life sounds of mother nature’s children . . .”
Ever since that shaky, innocent beginning, we’ve stuck to the same simple, fundamental principles. We work with materials that are no longer living, yet by laboring with our hands, our eyes and our hearts we give them new life.
We’re totally committed to quality. Each piece we fashion is dated and bears the mark of our shop as well as the initials of the craftperson. If it ever breaks or fails to serve the purpose for which it was intended, we repair it free of charge.
We were founding members of Co-op America back in the early 80’s. We support their goal of building a “marketplace based on social and environmental responsibility and a spirit of cooperation in the workplace.” One percent of our adjusted gross income goes to non-profit environmental groups and organizations supporting animal rights and other causes.
Every item we offer is produced cruelty free. All ingredients used reflect an holistic philosophy of healing, strengthening and protecting.
We test every product we sell, just as we carefully scrutinize each and every company before placing their goods in the
Hummer Never-Ending Catalog. This is the only way to be sure our offering includes the best the emerging “green” industry has to offer.
As in the beginning, we continue to live and work according to a strict code of ecological and social responsibility. This includes producing and using products having the least possible adverse affect on ourselves, other life forms and the environment. It also means recycling everything possible and utilizing only efficient, non-polluting production methods and waste disposal systems.
At the core of all this wondrous labor rests our simple hope for a better tomorrow, always and forever. Yet we know this can only happen if everyone is willing to work tirelessly toward continuous improvement at every level.
In closing, I offer this quote from one of our first brochures published back in 1976:
“We’ve fashioned this Hummer Original with loving hands and eyes and hearts to last many generations; it bears the Hummer mark, which is our way of saying, a part of us goes with you always. In our never ceasing effort to achieve the highest level of excellence and environmental responsibility, we humbly offer the fruit of our labor, trusting it serves you long and well, according to your pleasure.”
I have enjoyed sharing this story with you! The message I hope to convey is simple: To many people put off living in order to make a living. They put off a safe and healthy lifestyle until the day when they can afford to live safe and healthy. To many people are so busy trying to become somebody they forget who they really are and what they really want.
Anyone can follow their hearts desire and live the life of their dreams. My personal vision was to live close to the Earth and do things that would touch not only my world lightly, but also caress the hearts, minds and souls of all that I encounter with a small breath of light and love.
If you love everything about your lifestyle and your work, you are blessed among human persons. Be thankful everyday for your profound gift! If not, then look into your heart and ask yourself . . . if I could do anything, be anything, what would it be?
When you have the answer, and if it is a good, worthy and noble endeavor, then it is in the nature of things for it to succeed. But only if you do it now. Tomorrow is not soon enough. Before you know it, you will wake up and it will be too late. Take your destiny in hand and fashion the future you long to experience today.
Yesterday I was a person who lived in the should’a, could’a, would’a world of wistfulness. Today I am Ezra. And I am green!
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