Thanks for finding us. We are in the process of revamping the website and will be ending the blog format soon. We will keep it for the creative outlet but the site will be better organized with interactive picture heavy content. Thanks for your interest in sustainable mountain development. Look in the different sections listed for our mission, products and services. Contact us directly with any questions. We look forward to hearing from you.

Rise and Bloom Again

Only now in the last rainy days of spring do we attempt to recount the fullness of last winter. The recent heavy rain nearly overshadows the intensity of the snows and cold. We survived another one with plenty of help from family and friends.
We are thankful to the Aho community for a great year. We will always remember our first big gardens, our first Christmas, cross country skiing out the front door to the Parkway.

Where to begin. Spring 09.
We have moved again. To Todd, NC right on the banks of the New River’s South Fork. We have taken up residence in the wonderful working Mathom House Farm run by Lyn Soder. She is serving as a great mentor and incubator for our farming endeavors. We have been welcomed to the Todd community by old friends and new supporters. Namely the folks at Elkland Art Center and the Todd Mercantile. We will sell our goods at the mercantile. We have planted a new garden near by the store thanks to the Moretz family with whom we work often in our Woods buisness. The horses are staying near by on Three Top road (where we planted our potatoes) as well as in Fleetwood down on the corner of Idlewild. There we planted our field corn and will cover it with spelt grain this fall after the harevst. We planted sorghum cane further out the parkway. We have put together a small group of folks interested in a mini CSA. Let us know if you are. Tomorrow we will finally put out a new set of goats to tackle the briers on Hunt Hill in Valle Crucis. Good friend Mat Cooper will help us in looking in on them. Look for Mtn Works Farms products at the Todd Market, the Ashe County Market with Lyn Soder or email us with your requests.

Our most exciting news is that we have launched our boldest branch of the buisness to date with Mountain Works Construction. Old friends Rob Roberts and Troy McGuire have taken up the challenge of building not only green but in direct coordination with our restorative forestry harvests. To our knowledge this combination of “design based on restoration” all under one roof is a first anywhere. We are just beginning to understand the scope of what is possible through across the board integration in sustainable development. Our current construction project is for the Sorrel family in Fleetwood where we are restoring their 12 acres of forest and yielding a beautiful white pine timber frame addition for them in the process. The beams are sawn on site with a portable band saw run by Mike Shenton. The hardwood will be taken to the local circle mill run by Bret Winebarger (two miles from the building site) and will be used in the custom crafted interior. Recycled windows, passive solar design, rain water collection, , SIP panels, site reclaimed lumber and solar hot water provided by our good friends at Blue Ridge Energy Worksare just a few ear marks of a Mtn Works build.

We would also like to welcome Chris Kaase to the team as he expands the work of our Mapping a Modeling department. He is hitting the ground running with everything from forest inventory to building site analysis; all while finishing his master’s thesis on stream restoration. Kelly and Ian continue to play traditional music with a variety folks including Kelly’s parents Randy and DJ SHeets. With the variety of skill sets coming together Mtn Works is closer than ever to the hope of facilitating full spectrum sustainability in mountain communities from Boone to Bhutan. This is our season, Appalachia gives a pilot view, and like the laurel and dogwood we rise and bloom again.

Done gone by

We’ve been busy as all get out lately and have fallen way behind on posting to the blog. Getting married was a whirlwind but we rejoiced with good weather, good friends and great food at the home of Kelly’s paternal family on Cabin Creek at the foot of Mount Rogers, VA. Thanks to everyone who gave of themselves to make it so special. Kelly’s friend Julie Roberts did the photography.

Check back here for some wedding photos. Here are some other photos of fall and early winter activity around here.
Happy Holidays!


Summer Itch

Early August crickets are the loudest of the year. Just as the sun is the hottest and the flies the thickest. The crescendo of yearly growth has reached its peak. It’s all down hill from here. The berries will soon be mush on the thorn. The uncut hay? Straw. The garden, too well tended and carelessly over planted, will by this time tomorrow be a endless sea of greens, squash, beans and of course the damn tomatoes refusing to be teased from the tapestry. And the fruit…..incomprehensible. Was it stupid, blind, dumb luck? This abundance. Yes. Yes indeed. How then to account for such ignorant good fortune? If cultivation is the drug then this is the equivalent of your dad sticking ten cigarettes in your mouth and saying “alright then smoke away pal” when he catches you sneaking one from his pack. Collards. Collards at every meal for the rest of my life. We planted late. We didn’t think they all would make. We should have thinned more. Yet we still worry at over thinning the squash. It’s squash for god’s sake. Are we mad? Or are we simply addicted. Like feeding a just cured bale. We stir and season the ecologic stew with reckless abandon, convinced that next rattle of the cauldron will yield the flavor we seek. Superfluous yes. Ignorant yes. Loud of course. Each pause to taste cheered on by the crickets.

The mower re-build was successful; see the photos in the Farms section. We will finish Charles Reninger’s forest this week or so. Praise the Lord. The guys are deciding where to go next and are feeling blessed to have so many choices. The DRAFTWOOD CSF will make its first sale tomorrow. We are all very excited to be breaking the new ground of direct marketing a locally utilized restorative forest product. The happy client will walk away with a thousand board feet of hemlock siding and the knowledge he was the first in a long line of CSF members to make possible the dream of community-based restorative forestry. Ian and Kelly have been playing at small gigs in the area this summer and are extremely busy with wedding plans and of course the big garden. Chad Vogel has brought along his new team of horses as only Chad can; staunchly smooth. He will be part of Mountain Works’ doings for a little longer and we are oh so glad for that. Dusty Bradshaw will return to the woods tomorrow after a many month hiatus for a little globe trotting. Ian is actively advocating for Restorative Forestry in the Globe area of the Pisgah Nat. Forest among countless other things. The crew is looking forward to a mid-month trip to Floyd, VA to be a part of documentary on HHFF. We’ll let you know all the details as we get them. Ian is now working Frank with Chad’s horse Tray, full time. Jango has been worked lightly in the fields and will most likely be harnessed for farming over logging from now on. Ian just finds this new arrangement more productive and easier going. A new educational branch of HHFF will soon form and Ian’s teaching at ASU will be this spring. It will be here before we know it. Save those seeds. We wish you all the very best of summer.

A Clearing

As dusk blows in over the Blue Ridge this brisk March evening, we pause. This place, our forests and fields, the lane from the back door to that place where we saw the hawk that day…well…we walk now hoping it will return. We tread the cold path under the tall, shivering sentinels and know that what once was the highland timber is now a slowly healing wound on the ground we treasure. We seek out for the right path and find our neighbors looking for the same. Some of us find that our responsibility is to be leaders in what we feel must be a re-evolution of the Southern Appalachian Hardwood Forest through restorative human participation.

We eventually find ourselves converging on a clearing and seek to relate the latest news from our world. It has been a long time since our last post. The winter has come and now almost gone. I would be embarrassed if not for the fact that our work has been the distracting force; never a bad thing in my opinion. Since last we updated everyone Kelly and I have been given the opportunity to set up house and office in a previously vacant home in the community of Aho outside of Boone. Friends of the family have generously allowed us to stay the winter out of elements while they fix up the place for resale. We are getting married in the Fall and have renewed our small holding lease of farmland down the Parkway in Fleetwood for another year. We will plant our first gardens this spring and currently have 200 heads of garlic in the ground (probably spaced too close, but we’ll see).
All of the tillage has been done either by the horses or by hand. Ian has finally completed his M.A. in Geography from Appalachian. He is working on possibly teaching there this Fall. The “Woods” aspect of our business has been the main focus and Kelly has gotten more involved with her position at TRCS. She has also been spearheading our “Studios” project. Working in a variety of mediums she is building a new body of art work. We are going to be playing more music as part of this project area as well and already have a few gigs lined up for this season. We will be playing at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in Boone, NC April 7th and 8th. Also on the “Studios” front we have completed our first documentary type film from our trip to India entitled “Leaving Winter”. Inspired by the original song from Jay Brown the film is about our week long migration with the Bhotiya herders of the Garhwal Himalaya. Look for a clip soon and for other ethnographic works from the “Studios” crew.

On the “Woods” front fellow Biological Woodsmen Chad Vogel has moved his operation to Boone and partnered with us for the winter. Having him, his animals and equipment join our local efforts towards Community-Based Restorative Forestry has been like a shot in the arm. Where as we moved loads of wood to our local mills once or twice every month now we are moving 3 and 4 loads each week. We have had success selling some of our oak laps to local mushroom growers. Dusty Bradshaw continues to help out despite his numerous other commitments. Our current job has us working with an elderly man in the Winkler’s Creek community. His forest land borders the Blue Ridge Parkway. The site is quite remote and has required four-up pulls across rocky slopes for the past week. Our new friend and camera man Adam Cohen has footage of this and will hopefully relinquish it soon. Our horses Jango and Frank continue to work well together and in other combinations. We are considering acquiring a mare and will of course stand the stud this spring. Chad has generously agreed to pro-rate his transportation equipment to us at no interest over time. Anyone who wishes us well must know that we view Chad as our Godsend. Dreams can come true and good friends make it possible. We have been working closely too with Andy Bennett of Double Tree Farm in Madison County, NC to pound out the ins and outs of a locally based, community supported system of lumber trade. Look for the Mountain Works DRAFTWOOD CSF to be offering shares soon.

We are on the verge of accomplishing many of our larger goals as well. Through our close affiliation with the Healing Harvest Forest Foundation and our mentor Jason Rutledge we are planning an international event for Restorative Forestry this Fall in conjunction with the first classes in Restorative Forestry with ASU’s Sustainable Development Program. More details on that soon. As spring approaches we are feeding out the last bits of hay and looking ahead to this year’s plantings. On rainy days we are tinkering with an old David Bradley sickle bar mower that we believe will mow this summer. We are looking at various dump rakes to make our wind rows and such. There are a handful of fields possible for making our own hay but we will see. We have also been given permission to make a main vegetable garden closer to the house on Aho road. This will open up our Fleetwood lease to larger row crops such as sorghum cane, feed corn and potatoes. We are involved as well with an attempt to keep invasive brambles at bay at the Valle Crucis conference center using goats. That project will again involve collaborating with the ASU Sustainable Development Farm which continues to be rewarding. Finally, we have been making trips to Kelly’s Grandmother’s farm on Cabin Creek in Grayson County, VA to prune the ancient orchards there. The old trees still have life in them yet and thanks to Kelly’s dad Randy Sheets we are making the place ready for the wedding this Fall. Randy and his wife Deborah Jean have continued to be a treasure from which to learn the rural way. We hope everyone is well and has enough left to feed their charge. We are counting every flake.

A gust tests the sweater and the rotting Oaks above. We are harkened out of our communion and back into the moment. The light has almost completely faded now to bright grey. We must find our way back to where we were before; a place of family and hearth; a place by the wood pile where the old man took his last breath, smiling, ax still in hand. Like the circling of the Red Tail, the moment for reverence is fleeting, yet constant as birth and death. A final blusterous rake from above stings through the hollow, demanding our removal. Off in the distance, the deepening crackle of brittle Hickory screams of another loss. The guard must change or they will not last the night. We shall cease from our pause and act now, while there is still light to see.

With the hope of spring.

The Mountain Works Crew

The Defense

We have been back in the country since the 5th of the month. We are happy to be back home and are settling into a groove of work. I am in Virginia with Jason Rutledge gathering my horses for a return to work in WNC. We have a great group of forest landowners whom we have been building a relationship with for many years and we are anxious to get back in the woods.
The largest news on the academic front is my upcoming Master’s internship defense on the 29th. Keep checking in for details and times. I will be working to have a draft of the internship report to my committee by the 25th. The weather in Floyd County, VA has been right for making hay. The crew here at Ridgewind Farm is quite large now. The extra HHFF interns make the work easier and they are anxious to learn. It is very gratifying to finally be in a position to actually teach something regarding horses and restorative forestry.
The Master’s Defense will focus on the results and recommendations derived from the internship project. The supervisor for the endeavor, Dr. Sunil Kainthola, has written a performance evaluation which will be available on the site soon. The committee and I are both excited that the process will be completed soon. The multi-media spatial product aspect of displaying the results has been the toughest part. We may have to re-think what is currently possible given the availability of accurate spatial data for the politically sensitive Indo-Tibetan border region.
I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to those who commented during our trip. Getting your well wishes was much appreciated but even more fulfilling were the questions about our motivations and purposes.

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To address some of those points; we believe (and in some ways so do the Bhotiya) that God or the Goddess, has everything to do with integrating ourselves into the environment. Those beliefs, like any of substance, are personal. Academically though personal feelings are discouraged. One does research, one analyzes data, one presents results of analyses. Simple right?–maybe not. Any sort of ethnographic type immersion or extended period of living with a group of people separate from your own background cannot help but be an exchange. A give and take of cultural norms and eventually, if one is lucky enough, beliefs. Since 2002 I have been that lucky with the people of the Garhwali frontier many times. Should we who study the spatial patterns and processes of society not acknowledge being a part of that society ourselves? And if we do in fact take a close look at indigenous communities we will find strong bastions of faith, in many forms; in deities yes but also faith in the community itself. If that kind of interconnected and interdependent spirituality is present, especially one with its centerpiece of strength being an actual massif of earth, in these adaptive yet traditional places then we as students of the human myth should not shy away from the personal faith inside us. Its fundamental for them, it should be for us. There was no comodification of culture. There was a bartering of common heritage. Looking to the past is paramount and considering it nostalgic is short changing tradition. We whole-heartedly concur that tradition, like biologic diversity and composition is constantly developing and changing. The question becomes, where do we start? We chose the beginning.
Looking to the future and finding a place for our traditions to “live” is indeed key but how can we come up with progressive solutions for integrating traditional knowledge and practices if we exclude the beginning or starting point for those traditions, their devout foundations.

Heading Home

So much has happened since our last post. We are now on our journey home. We are in Delhi today, departing tomorrow night and arriving in Atlanta, Georgia the morning of June 5. I must say it is a long way home. Our journey here has been truly incredible. It has been an instrument of global consideration and involvement and at the same time it has reinforced the value of home. Our decision to bring elements of our own culture here for the purpose of education, exchange and celebration has been a good one. It has been grounding to be rooted in our own specific cultural ways in spite of a vast change in landscape and geography. It has also been very transformative to learn some of the skills and practices of rural villagers in the Himalaya. Having left Lata village on June 1st, I must say that I’m already missing the mountains and longing to get back to the mountains at home.
Our projects are mostly wrapped up, at least the India phase of the projects. When we return home we will begin sharing our stories, observations, photos, drawings, artifacts and film. My journal-sketchbook is almost full of drawings and writings. Ian’s internship is completed and now he will focus on writing his final report. A quilting workshop has begun and will continue in Lata village. Youth leader Nun Dhun Singh Rawat plans to lead an initiative to begin producing quilts in Lata for use in the locally equitable tourist industry that is developing there. We have shared and collected songs and dance. We visited the Lata primary school to share music and dance and to present the culture capsule from Two Rivers Community School. We have seen tremendous mountains while trekking above Lata, at Lati Karak. We were able to see a very clear and lovely view of Nanda Devi; the moon rose above the mountain just as the sun was setting across the valley, painting the mountain a pinkish gold against a purple sky. We had the privilege of trekking with a Mountain Shepherds guide, NIM (Nerhu Institute of Mountaineering) trained Raju Rana. We have been welcomed with such hospitality and generosity here and we have made some true and lasting friends. One friend from Lata, Lila Devi Rawat, told us that in our short time in her village we have become like family to her. There have been many invitations for us to return to India and we do hope to come again and rejoin with these good people.


Two more for Trekking

We have been participating in the current courses entitled Mountain Geography and Sustainable Mountain Development from Dr. Keith Bosak. The latest batch of students is from Georgia Southern University. It is very satisfying to see the courses which begun as my own undergrad independent studies continuing under Dr. Bosak’s instruction. The group has just completed a fairly difficult trek to the base of the Trisul massif. We encountered a vicious alpine storm at Paternatchinna Buygal (approx. 12,600ft.) 5 hours of hail, rain and snow combined with winds over 50 mph to brew quite the tempest. Two tents failed in the ordeal but the Georgia Southern group pulled together to ensure everyone passed the night relatively warm and dry. The following day involved crossing high passes over snow. I was happy to aid in the guiding of the group over the technical sections. The Mountain Shepherd boys worked superbly however with their NIM training already being put to good use. We are very proud of these young men. Throughout the trek I was able to observe pastoralism in action in this neighboring region. Numerous shepherds and herb collectors, unhampered by the Biosphere Reserve land-use restrictions of their Niti valley counterparts, were active and working in the buygals even during the worst weather. These basic observations give me the ability to compare the differences in subsistence pastoral activity from one area to another. We enjoyed this period of exercise and found the Georgia Southern students enthusiastic about finding real approaches to the issues of people in the conservation equation. Today we were able to make arrangements for the final transhumance interviews. We also took some additional ground control points for the multi-media spatial product. The two remaining weeks of our trip will be used to begin data analysis and for drafting of the internship report. Kelly’s Trading Traditions project is also now in full swing; see additional posts and keep those comments coming.

Dhun Singh Bisht from Wan Village

Kelly’s thoughts on academic interaction

Today we participated in an academic exchange; Ian explains more of the specifics. It was a great success. I came away from it with some inspiration over the idea of local involvement and empowerment. The Nanda Devi Campaign that we are now involved in and supporting began because academics were inspired by the activism of local Bhotiya people of Lata village. Some time ago the villagers organized a protest called Jhapto Cheeno, meaning literally swoop and grab. The people asserted their right to inhabit and use lands that have been placed under government restriction by squatting in the core zone of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve for a few days. Police officials were dispatched to remove them from the area, but the lowland officers were unable to climb the mountain as the villagers had done. In this way the people asserted their rights and demonstrated their superiority in terms of adaptation to the extreme terrain and climate.

These people of Lata are empowered local people. They believe that they belong in the place they are and have rights to be there and to stay there. They have developed a sustainable livelihood and have been adapting their economy in response to economic, social, political, and cultural changes. They have maintained traditions and have accepted and embraced some changes.

If we are to do something about the problems facing our world today we must become local again. I’ve been reading Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America; Culture and Agriculture. He writes that you can’t love the whole world without loving a specific place in a deeper way; otherwise your love is shallow. He affirms the idea of a home, of finding a place and staying there, all the while building a right relationship to that placed based on choices specific to that land and ecosystem, culture and tradition.

Globalization is quickly changing our world and dangerously homogenizing our diverse cultures. The world was never meant to be inhabited by monocultures, but by diverse species, cultures, and ways of life. Our diversity will preserve us. In the western developed world we cannot spend all our time trying to solve other people’s problems without solving our own. It is one planet, and our deficiencies contribute to the ill health of all. Still, the entire world has a part to play in this. My charge to us all is to be local, and to belong where you are, whether you choose to be in a place or you somehow find yourself there: stick around, grow something, and allow the specificity of a place teach you how to live well. It is our right to belong somewhere, our inheritance and hope.

Mountain academics gather in Rishikesh, India for watershed event

We have just this morning begun the next phase of the Leaving Winter Transhumance project. By taking our initial findings about adaptations of transhumant populations in this region to an academic forum at this stage we have been give a tremendous gift of unexpected insight and hearty debate. Dr. Keith Bosak, Anup Kumar and Dr. Govind Rajwar and I sat on a panel for the presentation and discussion of the many issues surrounding the Nanda Devi Biosphere. A series of other local professors and students presented their studies and participated in discussion of the situation. Dr. Rajwar opened the session with introductions of each panel member and Dr. Bosak gave a brief description of past events related to this meeting. I led the formal presentations by giving my preliminary project results and placing those initial impressions within the greater context of land-use/landscape change in the region. We then saw the affects of global climate change on the famous source of the Ganges River at Gamuk. Further presentations involved different approaches to similar problems of gross inequity in tourism, conservation, and development. Dr. Bosak and myself have taken this opportunity to further develop the term I have coined and Keith is now defining; Ecosystem Participation. Beyond the paradigms of Resource Management or even the better concept of Ecosystem Management we are asserting that human populations are inherently part of their ecosystem and must be participants within it. As a geographer I was able to contribute to the greater discussions of the traditional rights of the local people by offering the very nature of the problem was spatial in nature and should also be approached from the angle of Political Ecology. We were able to determine that in our minds the local people have and should continue to lead the way towards a sustainable development scheme for both the preservation of bio-cultural diversity through locally owned agri-adventure tourism.