Sustainability: thy name is Taos


Or its nickname, anyway.  The way I see it, this isolated part of northern New Mexico has always been a pioneer on the cutting edge of sustainability even if it didn’t know it. 

Let’s go back and take a peak at life a few hundred years ago. In those days no one could think about sustainability when they were working their butts off merely to survive in an environment that was quite challenging. This part of the world was greatly influenced by Native cultures where respect for Mother Earth was ingrained in people as much as not killing animals for fun but only for food or shelter or other need. 

A peek at how that might work is the way Native Americans who needed mud treated Mother Earth.  They used it for shelter in the form of adobe bricks, or function, which might be the bowls on that table that were coiled into shape, then fired and glazed. 

Sharon Dryflower Reyna, a member of Taos Pueblo, and a world-class ceramicist, told me she never takes from Mother Earth without giving back. The Pueblo people  are taught, and now so are we, to respect Mother Earth and not take from her without giving back. 

And isn’t that what sustainability is all about when you cut to the chase?

Consider the village within the Taos Pueblo and the materials used to create it. Folks here looked at what Mother Earth provided.  They saw how blessed this land was, how rich it was, how much Mother Nature provided.

They also realized that they needed to make sure their children and grandchildren could also live off the land when their time came. So a respect for buffalo, aspens and ponderosa pine, and mud and straw was inevitable as those were building materials. 

If we fast forward a few hundred years, and look to what is being built now with the same eye on sustainability, we might smack up against Mike Reynolds, a controversial chap who gets credit for the creation of earthships. Earthships are homes built using sustainable materials in a way as to leave the lightest footprints on the earth and to use what would otherwise be disposed of or be impossible to dispose of.

The basic construction materials for earthships are old tires, glass bottles and aluminum cans. (Think soda pop here or beer.) If you think about it, we create new old car tires each day and will for so long as anyone I know will live. 

And no one has yet invented a better delivery system for beverages – soft or hard – than glass or aluminum. Nor are they likely to, at least not for a while yet.

And then there is our mud. Oh, how muddy our mud is. If there were a contest for the best mud in the world, our mud would win. Easy.  Take our mud, add a good dose of straw that is also plentiful around these parts, and one has one heck of a building material. And so adobe bricks were born.

And others took to using straw bale, which gave any wall an organic feel: no two ever the same. It sure isn’t for the jT-square type. But then Taos isn’t for the T-square type.

Now let’s consider that one person’s sustainable is another person’s not being sustainable enough. I know a couple that could afford to build what they wanted where they wanted in the Taos area.

Yet it was the feeling of both this woman and her partner that they didn’t want to add another structure to Mother Earth if there was a suitable one out there already. They were willing to accept what may be seen by others as design quirks in an existing home so as not to use more materials, be they sustainable or not.

I think we all need to accept and adopt sustainable principals in one form or another for our species to survive. We realize that we are filling landfills far too fast and losing precious land to merely store waste. 

If we reduce our waste, if we try real hard to impact the Earth in the least possible way, we can insure the survival of our species. And I am all for that. Whatever it takes.  Regrets won’t do us much good, nor will apologies, if we ignore sustainability.

Harvey Blaustein is a retired attorney and local real estate broker.


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