Sunday, October 20, 2013


When I was a child, I used to fantasize about off by myself somewhere, growing all my own food and not needing anything from anyone. I was too young for this to have any deep philosophical underpinnings at the time. It was  just that I wanted to get away from my supremely dysfunctional family.

Stevan de la Rosa
We recently met a remarkable young man here in Banámichi who is living my fantasy. (I am constantly surprised by the interesting assortment of people who have made themselves at home here.) Three years ago Stevan de la Rosa bought a piece of farmland on the north side of the Rio Sonora. Walking around town on a Sunday after church, he serendipitously met a man  who pointed out a woman with a piece of land to sell.

 Since then, he has slowly and meticulously made by hand adobe bricks and has constructed a lovely small home for himself, sourcing as many of the materials locally as possible. During the time he has been working on the building, he has lived in an elderly Sears canvas tent in a sun-dappled grove of mesquite trees, and he has planted food crops in the fields and elsewhere around his living area.

Mesquite grove

The old Sears tent

Ceiling showing catenary arch
The small dwelling has a roof/ceiling that is a catenary arch, all constructed of his handmade adobe bricks. The roof is incredibly strong. One Saturday afternoon recently he got together a group of 15 beefy local cowboys to stand on the roof to demonstrate its durability.

The building has a few arched windows set in the thick strong walls which take the downward force created by the weight of the catenary arch. There is a smooth adobe floor that he will seal with linseed oil, and he has recently painted the interior with whitewash. Near the floor are red and orange colored rocks that he found in the hills near nearby Huepac, and he has carved lovely trailing designs into the adobe at the front and back. Inside the structure, it is light and airy with a beautiful clear energy that is reminiscent of a small cathedral. He says that the local people tell him that all it needs are some saints up front!

Cathedral interior. The adobe floor is still drying.
Window, showing ceiling detail

Scrolls carved into adobe
Stevan spent his last year of college in Thailand, where he learned about sustainable organic farming. Since his classes were online, when he finished, he was able to stay and continue working and learning. During this time he was introduced to natural construction methods and became intrigued with building a home with nothing more than a shovel, a hoe, a bucket and a wooden form for the bricks. He also became involved with the idea of self-reliance and finding all that one needs locally. He later visited Africa to also learn about Nubian vault building, and other adobe construction methods. In the 10 years since then,  he has taught these methods to others, and has built  a number of  projects, preferring to work with owner-builders who are involved with and committed to the building process. He currently has a young apprentice who is learning from him and assisting him.

View to the east with corn crop
After traveling extensively for a number of years, he began to feel the need to settle somewhere. Born in Tijuana, he wanted to stay in northern Mexico in a place where there was water year around. He came across another blog that led him to the Rio Sonora valley. His piece of land is beautiful, with a view across the fields of the mountains to the east and the white domes of the Banámichi church rising above the distant green of the trees. An irrigation canal runs through the mesquite grove. Pretty little yellow-bellied birds zip among the trees, and other small creatures share the space with him. It is a large plot of land, and he has already raised some crops on it. He lunches on salad made of arugula and tomatoes that grow in the mesquite grove. He plans to eventually work the land on a larger scale and raise animals.

Outdoor kitchen showing exterior of the building
I must say that even now, Stevan's lifestyle appeals to me enormously. It is the simplicity, the quietude, the physical activity and the time for introspection that draw me - the same things that keep pulling me back to Banámichi. Stevan will tell you that his is a simple lifestyle, but that it is not necessarily easy. Adobe is heavy stuff. He is lean and muscular from the physicality of it. Still, he says, sometimes when he is hard at work, he looks up and sees the mountains in the distance and he still can't quite believe that he gets to live in such a magnificent place.

Stevan is a gentle soul, an old soul. He is invariably enthusiastic and cheerful, and is solid and secure within himself, knowing what he wants from life. He gets along with everyone. In spite of the challenges of his lifestyle, he seems genuinely happy. He knows that it is the simple things that give him the most pleasure in life. It is deeply satisfying to create his own home, to raise his food, to enjoy his view of the mountains. Sourcing his needs locally eliminates the necessity for dealing with systems that create difficulty and turmoil. He is at peace. It is good to be free from the need for external stimulation. It is better for the person and far better for the planet to live in this manner.

“Live simply so others may simply live.” - Mother Teresa