I had never even met Betty Seaman until this interview, but her enthusiasm, dedication, and kindness immediately won me over, and I left feeling as if I’d found a new friend. Rebecca and I interviewed her on January 12, 2016 at her humble house in the mountains.
My name is Betty Arline Seaman. My date of birth is March 12, 1963, and I was born in Santa Barbara, California. My home was right next door to Orella Ranch. I don’t know if you know the Tautrim family? Guner’s kids will be seventh generation on that land, which is pretty amazing. I grew up right next door to them, when Glen and Marilyn Parks owned that ranch, and then the oil company bought that out. My dad moved us to Arizona for a while, when I was eight. But I just kept coming back.
My immediate family members are my husband Tautahcho Muhuawit, my mom Jackie Seaman, and my three kids that are not kids any more: Cassie who is thirty, Sam who is twenty-seven, and Levi, who is twenty-one.
CW: And how did you find this place and come to be here?
BS: It’s more this place found us. We didn’t really have a choice in the matter. It just sucked us in and here we are. We’ve been here since May of 2001.
CW: What do you do?
BS: You’re sittin’ in it. I’ve done many things, but currently, for reasons I can’t explain, I’m a natural building teacher and a natural builder. I travel around and help people build structures that are nontoxic and inexpensive and comfortable and safe, and I teach people to do the same. So if we’re building a structure, it’s usually with students. And we build ovens and benches and play houses and stuff.
CW: How did you learn how to do this?
BS: I was desperate. When this place found us, I said, “Okay. We’ll come take care of you.” It was just land. There was nothing here. There was a homestead here many, many years ago, but it had been dozed into the creek bed, so you can still see the remnants of that.
We just romantically thought, “We can do that. I can buy the land outright. I wouldn’t have anything left over, but that’s okay.” The money was from my father’s passing; I was left with an inheritance. Our lease was up in town and we had to go somewhere. We couldn’t afford a fixer-upper. But we could afford this. So we came up, and here we were. We had no money and no house. We thought it was going to be easy, and it wasn’t. I took a six-day workshop for natural building and ended up learning fast how to make shelter for my family and myself.
CW: You and Tautahcho did this as a team?
BS: No. My husband is not at all interested in natural building.
CW: What does he do?
BS: He’s been an aikido instructor mostly. And aside from that, he’s just a really cool guy. (Laughter.) He is a shoulder for a lot of people, and if people are having a crisis or a spiritual situation or need guidance or counsel, depending on what their needs are, many people seek him out for guidance.
CW: Did he also grow up locally?
BS: He’s Chumash. He’s Chumash, Zapotec [Oaxaca], and Ohlone. He has a tribal number… but it’s not that one [meaning Santa Ynez]. He’s an Ohlone, which is part of his mother’s family. But he grew up on the reservation here. So he’s from here. This is his land.
CW: What does it mean to you to be here? Maybe you can just talk to us about that.
BS: I was born right across the freeway from the ocean, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Pisces, but I feel connected to the ocean...and no matter how many times I’ve moved away, I’ve come back. I’ve just always come back. I raised my kids in this area and I feel like being in this part of California is just in my blood. I could never live anywhere else. I don’t think I can explain it any more than that. It’s familiar. Some people are meant to travel and explore. Some people aren’t, and I’m one of those. I am totally happy just being here.
The Valley was a great place to raise kids, although things have changed a lot in the last fifteen years or so, which doesn’t mean it’s not a great place to raise kids anymore, but I think I was there in that sweet spot for them and the friends they had, the experiences they had. It was so safe. We lived in Los Olivos for most of that period, and you just walked everywhere. I worked at Side Street Café when Lou [Netzer] still had it, and the kids went to school just a few blocks away. It was just a quick drive to the ocean. It was the best of all the worlds. And being up here was just epic. You can’t put it into words.
CW: What has changed and what remains constant?
BS: Do you mean in my life, or in the world around us?
CW: The world, your life…all of it. (Laughter)
BS: That’s a big topic, girl. (Laughter) I’d say the Valley…the Santa Ynez Valley…has grown a lot. It used to be a cow town, and before that it was something else, and now it’s kind of a wine town and a beer town. It’s just changes. Los Olivos, when we were living there, had little mom and pop shops. You could get groceries, you could rent a movie, you could buy gas…you could get a book. All of the locals’ needs were met, and then some.
And there were still the little places…art galleries. My father, Drake Seaman, was an artist, and the Cody Gallery was the first gallery he ever showed in. He began his art life in this area. And the Grange Hall used to be a place where there was always something going on, there were all these dances or potlucks. Side Street was an epic place for music out in the tea garden. There were a lot of gathering places.
My kids could walk anywhere. Literally they were seven and nine, and I had no idea where they were, and if they came to the door at nine o’clock at night I didn’t give it a thought. It was just safe. It was fine. And if anything did get a little funny, I’d get a call from a neighbor, “Well, you know…Sam’s naked in a puddle three blocks down.” Everyone was keeping an eye out. It just doesn’t feel like that anymore.
So…yeah…it was slow-paced, sweet, all the neighbors knew each other, for better or worse, just like any village. Now there are a lot of fresh folks coming from larger places where they carry that fear with them, and oftentimes they don’t cross the fear factor to meet neighbors, or perhaps they’re too busy, but it's harder to get to know people, and we know each other less. I can think of lots of little moments that show that, but it’s mostly just an overall feeling that’s really different.
CW: I wonder what we can do to restore that lost sense of community. Or do you just have to create your own?
BS: I’m kind of off the beaten path, so it’s harder for me, but just cling to people...although social media has changed things. It's kind of sad. If I don’t go online, I only hear about things three weeks after they’ve happened. For a long time, I felt, Wow…I wasn’t even worth a phone call. I was feeling really sorry for myself. But I realize that’s just how people communicate now. It's not that I was sorted out; I just didn’t include myself because I wasn’t playing the same game somehow.
I think having celebrations that are open and don’t cost money and involve music and kids and food and have some common thread [can help us connect to one another in the real world]. I’m more in tune with Los Olivos because that’s the closest to me and it’s where I came out of, but now there’s LOBO [Los Olivos Business Organization] and POLO [Preservation of Los Olivos], and it’s just politics all of a sudden. Everyone has some good points, and everyone has some not-so-great points, but it’s just polarizing the community, rather than bringing folks together.
A lot of people I’ve met come here from big cities and literally plant their flag on the planet down there--and others think, no, it shouldn’t be this way--and they leave. They pack their bags and move away. You guys have to stay! You can't go now! So many good people have left.
CW: I like that concept of just getting people together for music and friendship, no other agenda. Why does there always have to something sold, or some persuasion taking place?
BS: Right. Or a fund-raiser. Another thing that makes it harder now to feel that sense of community is not having small children…it was a lot easier when the kids were little, because you just did stuff with the kids.
RA: What stayed the same?
BS: The Palmers. (Laughter) The iconic folks that are just dug in, for better or worse. I appreciate them so much! It’s like that one stone the water keeps washing over, and all the other debris is being washed out, but that solid little stone is still there. Thank goodness for that stone.
And they cut down all these amazing fruit trees! All over Los Olivos, we used to glean tons of food…and they’re just cutting them down. Because it’s messy or it’s in the way…I don’t know. Maybe I’m just getting nostalgic.
RA: That’s an idea that was really new to me: that a tree could be messy. How is it messy?!
BS: There was that mulberry tree, right at the corner, where the pub is now, that had the best mulberries you could ever imagine. And it was prolific. You could fill buckets. Mulberries are so good! And mulberry jam…and mulberry ice cream…
But one day we went down there and they had cut it down. If I’d known, I would have taken some cuttings, because it’s really easy to propagate those, but there it is.
And it had been there for so long. So I don’t know what else has been constant.
CW: Maybe the shape of the mountains? The land?
BS: Although I have no qualms with the casino, that big building that they built, if you look down there now, it’s like someone took a Tonka Toy building and just plopped it there. It’s the tallest, biggest, and the brightest. There could have been other ways of doing it, I think. It could have been an amazing tool to teach and find ways to grow that fit with the community and please aesthetically. But there it is.
CW: I agree. It would have been cool if they'd used the opportunity to do something genuinely different. It didn’t have to be so ugly and intrusive. It seems to show a disregard for the community.
Anyway, you mention how different things are when you have small children. When the kids finally grow up and your role changes as a parent and a woman, how do you navigate that? Do you feel that your life has fundamentally changed, and what are you doing?
BS: I feel I am in the process right now of reinventing myself partially because of that. When Tautahcho and I moved into this particular house it was the first time in our twenty-five years together that we were living in a home that didn’t have kids. It was amazing! Even now we still lie in our bed and giggle sometimes. It’s so quiet and so awesome. Everyone still just walks in and out, so there’s that, but it’s so much fun to have our own space.
I’m now in a period of my life when I am transitioning in so many big ways that I don’t quite understand. I don’t have a mentor. I don’t have a grandmother figure, and my mom didn’t understand that much about menopausal years, so it was kinda bumpy for her. I feel that it can be a really elegant transition, but it’s a lot more enjoyable if you’re hooking arms with other ladies that are going through it at the same time, ‘cause it can be a kind of insanity.
But I also keep telling myself it’s awesome. We’re shedding this old skin, and we get to reinvent whatever it is that we are stepping into, and I don’t even know what that looks like! I haven’t a clue.
So I’m in that blank-scape right now. I am clueless, but loving it. And I’m excited about what that will bring to me.
RA There’s so much pressure to cling to the way that you were.
BS: On every level. You need to feel young. You need to look beautiful. You need to perform.
CW: You need to contribute.
BS: But our contribution, even, is a different story now. I’m at that point where I’m still able-bodied, but my body doesn’t want to contribute what it was contributing. My body just tells me, “I don’t want to do this any more.” So I’m learning to moderate that. I can find other ways to contribute. But like I said, I’m not sure what those are.
CW: What would you say is your source of strength?
BS: I think just where I live. It’s not something I look at or a person that I talk to; I think it’s just the energy of the land. When I’m here I feel good.
Sometimes I get depleted, because I’m doing all the things I probably shouldn’t be doing anymore, but all I have to do is go away for a few days and when I come back here I’m powered up again. I think having that sense of place…home…this is the longest I’ve lived in any one place. I’ve lived here on the land for fifteen years, and I think before that, five was the longest I ever lived in one house. Being stable gives me strength.
Having my family around gives me strength. Having my husband around gives me strength, ‘cause he’s supportive, in a gentle, nonverbal way. Tried and true, he’s just always there. He’s never saying I can’t do things… not saying I should, or could, but never saying I can’t. (Laughter)
CW: How did you guys meet?
BS: Aikido. He was an aikido instructor, and I took his class. I fell for him. (Laughter) Really hard.
CW: Do you still practice?
BS: I trained solid for thirteen years, dojo style, and he had a dojo in town, so we did that. He was teaching classes and I was teaching classes, and we came up here. I feel like after that much time, your life becomes a translation of your art. So it’s in the way I move my body when I’m building and carrying and lifting, and also in my interactions with people, because aikido is a deflection of energy type of thing, it’s not an aggressive…offensive…type of thing.
CW: By the way, speaking of art, I just have to say I love your dad’s painting.
BS: I have all of my dad’s art in storage now, and I have to figure out how to do some sort of retrospective or something. I hate them being stored. It’s really sad. He did good work.
CW: Do you also do art, other than the art that is implicit in the way you live your life?
BS: I was doing logos, more commercial stuff for businesses, t-shirt design and stuff.
RA: And your bags.
BS: Yes, beadwork and leather work. [She takes down a beaded bag to show us.]
CW: That’s stunning. Do you custom create these?
BS: No two are ever alike. That one is Rosie…I had this sweet old mule named Rosie. She lived up here for a long time and died when she was about thirty-five years old. I had to do a dios de los muertos memorial for her somehow. So that’s what that bag was about.
CW: How did you learn to do this?
BS: I kinda just taught myself. I picked it up as time went by, and different people come through and can show me a new thing, but mostly just self-taught.
CW: God, you’re so modest. If I’d done something this good, I would have had it out so it was the first thing you saw when you walked in! (Laughter) But actually, I respect your restraint. It seems that there’s a constant stream of people promoting themselves these days, especially on social media. I get so tired of it.
BS: I think people are lonelier now than they ever have been before. My mom and I were driving to Santa Maria one day and there were two cowboys coming down this hillside, along the fence line…at first you ‘re like…oh, so picturesque…and then I realized that both cowboys had their phones out and were texting. And right at the same point there were two cars pulled over, also texting, and it was like this commercial of madness. Everyone I saw in this whole mile was like…nowhere.
CW: The people who come up here, like the young women we saw out there when we first arrived, what is that about? Do they apply? How does that work?
BS: It’s 99% word-of-mouth and 1% people calling me and saying, “I saw your website” and me saying, “I don’t have a website” (Laughter) But there have been blogs posted by people who did projects, so we have an online presence that’s totally accidental and not anything that I have anything to do with.
Each individual who comes here is a totally different case. They’re all people who are super-excited about connecting with earth, building earth-friendly life styles, and I don’t really know of another common thread.
And it’s mostly women. That’s interesting.
CW: And they’re women in their twenties or so?
BS: I would say anywhere from as young as fourteen or fifteen, and I’ve had ladies in their seventies.
CW: And they come from far away?
BS: We have a woman from Korea out there now. She actually was coming from Portland most recently, but she is Korean. Feel free to chat with them and ask them. Three ladies are here for a month and Esther, the lady who is originally from Korea, would like to just live here forever.
If I’m doing the actual apprenticeship, which I’ve done in the past, I won’t take more than two at a time. I actually prefer just one. I like working one on one and not having the madness. If I do that, it’s a fee of like one thousand dollars a month, and a three-month minimum, three to six months, and we build a building from start to finish. That fee keeps me afloat so I don’t have to go anywhere. I don’t have to sell bags, I don’t have to clean toilets, or whatever I’d have to do to make ends meet.
But I’m also entirely debt-free. I have a phone bill and I have property taxes and there’s nothing else I owe in the world. So it’s simple for me to bring these girls on. There’s a little sign in the kitchen for any work-traders that want to pop in. We’ve had probably eight recently, for maybe three to five days, and we just ask them to donate $10 a day or $50 a week. We share all of our meals, and we just buy cooperatively.
CW: It’s so amazing what’s going on here. And it’s so positive. It’s quietly putting something out into the world that is so good.
BS: It’s empowering. There is a huge underground culture of people just like these girls. It’s really big but we don’t know about it. They communicate on social media, there’s a big connection force out there for that, but most of these girls will have people who kind of converge here and at least half of them have met someplace else before. They travel and build.
I call it the natural building network. It’s different from permaculture. There’s a different vibe to it. Permaculture is an overall philosophy of conducting one’s life on the planet in a way that’s more regenerative, so you’re kind of closing your waste stream…composting toilets are a good example. And making good food gardens, creating a lot of abundance that you share. So there really ultimately is no waste. Like the ultimate waste is poop. Here, none of the poop is wasted. It gets treated properly and then added to the fruit trees for nourishment, and all the animals’ poop gets recycled into plaster or floors. The biggest waste stream we have is the packaging from the groceries we buy.
CW: Ah, the problem of packaging, especially plastic. What do you do about that?
BS Buying in bulk helps. Growing your own is huge. We stay connected to a lot of local organic farmers, so we barter. We barter goat’s milk for veg all the time, and I don’t have to have plastic bags. I literally pick up a big tote and then take it back when I’m done and get another tote. So that helps too. And we raise our own animals for meat and milk. Levi and Cassie are both really good animal processors. We were raising rabbits for meat and just ended that this year because we have goats and chickens.
It’s hard. It’s hard to have that connection. But I have no intention of being a vegan or a vegetarian and I feel that it’s more honest to know that the animal will have an amazing quality of life and to honor the spirit of it feeding our lives. That transition is just huge. And thank God I have two kids who can take care of that end of it, because I don’t think we all need to be the person that does that. I feed them. I tend them. My kids don’t want to do that. So it’s perfect. It works out really good.
I’m flattered that you find all this interesting. I’m in my own little bubble up here. I go into town, and I look at my dirty fingernails, and I know I just don’t fit in.
CW: You don’t wanna fit in. Please don’t.
So…let’s see…can you tell us about a major turning point or decision in your life?
BS: The biggest turning point in my life was when we chose to commit to living here. My dad and mom were artists, and he had built a log cabin in Arizona, so I grew up with the sense that you can do anything, and that was fantastic. But then coming here, and facing the reality…it was the most grueling year of my life. I had spent every penny of my inheritance on buying the land, and I misgauged some things, so I had to raise $11,000 for capital tax gains or whatever that crazy stuff was, and there we were, and the wind was blowing, and it’s freezing cold, and the kids were sick, and I just remember lying there and thinking, Oh my God, What have I done? I totally messed up. Levi was six. We lived in a tent for almost a year.
And then I just shifted to being determined. I knew we could do some kind of adobe or something. The clay was super-sticky out here. So somehow I found, through another really long story I won’t go into, a cob cottage company, and I borrowed the money to take a six-day course with Ianto Evans. Going up there was like landing on…well, the moon is way too familiar…it has to be a different planet. You know what I mean? It was out in the rain forest, outside of Coquille, Oregon. It was really new, and they had only begun one building at that point. You had to walk in, and all the material had to be hiked up a steep hill and across a bridge, but everybody was so willing and so excited. And I was desperate. Ianto saw my desperation, but he mistook that for being dedicated or good, or I don’t know what. (Laughter) I got there three days early. I was at the site an hour before anyone else. I stayed with my note pad until the sun went down.
All the food was being cooked on site. They had composting toilets, I had never seen one before. There were no trucks…everything was hand-moved, hand-built, and I loved it. Because you can do it! Before it was like, if you have a tractor, you’re gonna be okay, and if you have a carpenter you might be all right, but this was like, anyone can do this! And I did. We built a building.
I came home and I was so excited. Ianto likes to tell the story, “I called Betty to make sure she got home okay and see how she was doing, and she said, ‘I already started the first building!’ “
I just got off the plane and started building. I was so desperate! I’ll show you the little library building later; that was our first home. And it’s tiny, ten by twelve, with a little loft. We spent a couple of years in there as we were building the other buildings.
And then it just unfolded from there. So that was the biggest turning point in my life. Mainstream. Mainstream. Lots of possibilities, but they were just in my head or in a book. And then, BOOM. Anyone can do this! It’s about getting off the treadmill. There’s so much stuff we don’t need.
I’ve never been the kind of parent that was trying to convince my kids. They were really social in their high school years, and they spent a lot of time with my ex-husband, who is the father of my first two kids. And they spent a lot of time in town. But they always come back. And now the two older kids have taken permaculture courses, and they’ve come back and said, “Now I know what you were talking about!”
So it’s neat. Cassie right now is only in the Bay area because she wants to push her comfort zone with her cooking and be in situations where she is really stretching herself. She is an amazing cook, but just grass roots. She didn’t take any classes or courses, but we have friends who do charcuterie, like this one guy who is from Argentina, third-generation butcher family. He does it in such a soulful beautiful, way, but then he makes everything fantastic. He teaches people how to do all the meats at home even if you have no refrigeration or anything, ‘cause in Argentina there’s a lot of people in the backcountry who take good care of their meat. Even if you have no refrigeration, there are ways to preserve meat where you don’t have to freeze it or put chemicals on it or whatever.
Each of my kids has found a passion that is a part of the puzzle. Cassie has been on the circuit of cooking for permaculture and natural building workshops and retreats. She’ll cook for forty people for three weeks, breakfast, lunch and dinner, and doesn’t bat an eyelash, and doesn’t want help, to the point where she’ll butcher the animals, break ‘em down, gather everything from the garden…she just knows what she’s doing, and it’s good food. It’s not boring at all. Her dream is to have a food truck someday.
And Sam’s passion is about earth works and water, figuring out how to harvest water and move the land so that you’re storing it and slowing it down.
And Levi is just the mountain boy. He’s really good with chain saws and horses and stuff.
CW: I met him once, and I was impressed. He’s so knowledgeable and interesting.
BS: The last school experience he had was in fifth grade. He left after that and has been home schooled since. Some kids just have a difficult time in that form of education and he gladly stepped out.
RA: Maybe you could explain a little more about this type of building…like cob…I think the technology is really old.
BS: Two-thirds of the world’s population, or some really big percentage, still live and have always lived in earthen structures. So everywhere in the Middle East, Africa, the Hopi people…indigenous people from all over…live in clay houses.
The method we use came from Ianto Evans, who is Welsh. And “cob” is an old English word meaning small rounded mass, because as the walls go up as you’re building, there’s a team of people up on the wall, and you’re chucking balls of cob, balls of mud to them, and whoever is up there is just building, catching, building, catching, and the walls go up so fast, it’s insane. So that’s where that term came from.
Adobe blocks are a similar material but just handled differently because you’re making bricks and letting them dry and then building with them. The buildings are less strong in earthquake zones because they have all these joints and they tend to want to pull apart, but this is real monolithic. It’s an ancient way of building for anyone who lived in a climate where you can see, if you just go back a few centuries and see what people were living in, the technology is perfect for the place. You wouldn’t want to do this in Hawaii or a place like that. First of all there’s not much clay soil there, but also, it’s humid and you don’t need that thermal mass.
But here it’s perfect. You’ve got the clay soil, and the buildings moderate the temperature, and it’s really quiet inside. It’s got a nice feel to it.
CW: It must be a great feeling to know that you built this yourself.
BS: To qualify it: I didn’t build it by myself but with the hands of many, many people, who were having so much fun and were also feeling empowered by it.
RA: I was thinking about the idea of being so occupied with sustenance, how that takes up so much of your time and attention…whereas many people in our time are so abstracted from this. The life you have created seems so direct.
BS: It is direct. I think that’s the best word for it. Either you go out and earn the money to pay for the things you need or you just provide the things for yourself. It’s that simple.
We’re by no means at the place that I’d like to be. For example, we have that thing over there [pointing to a television hidden by a blanket] for watching movies. It’s not my choice. I find that when there’s no screen around, you’re reading or you’re creating, or just zoning. But my husband is a Vietnam vet. He’s had a really long hard life, lots of toil and difficulty. I don’t want to try to force him to live a life that I want to live. I want to find a balance. I need to be true to myself, not just to throw in the towel, but also respect his needs and find my way around those.
My mom is seventy-five. She’s amazing. She’s installing windows and doors, she takes care of animals, she’s just busting it out left and right. But she doesn’t want to be without her creature comforts. She was voting for that freezer, which we finally got. And we all love it now. It’s filled with ice cream, ‘cause my husband really likes chocolate ice cream.
So how do you find the balance here? It would be really cool to just keep going the other way, but when you live with other people, you have to find the balance. I’m always lookin’ for it.
CW: What advice would you give to others? What wisdom or lessons have you accrued?
BS: We live in a culture where we’re always trying to figure out how we can get more or have more of whatever. The challenge is: how can we figure out ways to need and want less? People always ask us why we don’t have internet up here, and a lot of the young folks will go down to the coffee shop for that, but I just want them to start thinking about unplugging…not disconnecting entirely, but to recognize that we don’t have to keep feeding those things we think we need, whether it’s more money, or a nicer car, or whatever it is.
We’re all different people and everyone has different needs and desires, but it’s always like, “How can we get more energy?” Maybe the question is how can we use less energy? When I first came up here, there weren’t that many lights in town, and there definitely weren’t that many towards the Sedgwick area, and now there are…well, they’re like spotlights. Are these people afraid of something? I’d love to know the story of those lights. I’d love to know why they would move to a place like this and just illuminate this beautiful pristine darkness. At least put a hood on it! But it’s that same theme: “Here I am. Oh, it’s not enough. I need to illuminate this. Oh, this isn’t enough either. I need three more. Or maybe I need a fence.”
But how can we pull back, instead? Everything we need is just there. Does that make sense?
RA: Our whole economy is based on growth. Why does there always have to be growth? Couldn’t there be like a flat line? Oh, that would be so bad, everything would fall apart. Why? It can’t just go up forever.
CW: What gives you hope when you look at the world?
BS: Hope is kind of an interesting word. I’m really trying to keep myself in check and rather than feeling hopeful, which is kind of, again, needing something, I try to turn it into a sense of gratitude. Wow, I’m so thankful. Look at this beautiful day. Look at this amazing home. I’m so thankful my kids are alive and well and they’re in my life. I don’t feel that I need hope…’cause everything’s kinda good.
But I feel a lot of hope in the young people that come through here, ‘cause they’re just so full of life and talent, and they’re really intelligent, and there are so many of them…and they’re little beacons that are going out there and just spreading it and reuniting with others and spreading it a little more, and doing such good work. There’s just so much good stuff going on out there. But it won’t be televised. You don’t ever see that in our media. I guess it’s not interesting enough, but it’s huge. There are so many good things going on out there. The permaculture thing is pretty cool, the natural building thing, people making their own stuff and growing their own things and saving seeds…and dancing!
RA: Do you think maybe that’s what hasn’t changed? There still exists that spirit in people. They’re coming up and they’re new, but it’s still there.
BS: It’s still there. Yeah.
CW: I like what you said about hope, that it implies a wanting of something…and you flip it around into gratitude.
RA: It’s presence. It’s being in the moment.
CW: Hmmm. That’s very Buddhist.
BS: I don’t know how that happened. (Laughter)
CW: What are you most proud of?
BS: I am an only child and don’t have any brothers and sisters, and I know lots of people who aren’t close with their siblings at all. I am proud that my kids have so much fun together and love hanging out. It’s literally one of the happiest things in my life. They seek each other out and they have these epic adventures, and they backpack together, and they’re planning a motorcycle ride across the United States in a year. I just love that they love each other so much. I want a brother and a sister like that! I don’t know how it happened, but that’s my crowning jewel, right there.
CW: I’m wondering if you could tell us about someone in your life who has been especially kind to you or has been a really big influence.
BS: Going way back, one of the first people in my life was a woman whose name I think was Dorothy, but she was known as Dodo. She is the person who really instilled this place of wonder in me. She had a ranch in Prescott, and my dad would work there and I would just hang out with Dodo. She would take me out and show me the baby kittens and the mud cats in the mud, and just really opened up my sense of wonderment about the world, so I’m thankful for that.
Currently there’s a person that’s a part of the Sunburst Community who has access to machinery and things, and he’s just so kind. If he even just hears a rumor that we need some earth moving done, he’ll call and make himself available. And you know, that equipment costs so much money. But he’s right there for us, and with such a sweet attitude about it.
And the woman I was named after is a big influence. Betty Eaton in Wyoming. I just went with my daughter. I hadn’t seen her since I was five, and I got to go re-meet her as an adult, and she got to meet my daughter for the first time. She is eighty-something, and that was pretty amazing. She saved my dad’s life, and that’s why I’m named after her. So in so many ways she has shown me kindness forever, and since we’ve reconnected I get the sweetest messages from her, and she’s just so ecstatic that we’re back in touch.
CW: How was she important to your father?
BS: My dad and his twin brother were born into a situation that was really bad. His parents were super-wealthy and his mom didn’t want to have a boy, and got two. She wanted the doctor to put them to sleep when they were born, to kill them. She wanted them euthanized. Obviously that didn’t happen, but my grandfather hired a nanny to keep my grandmother from killing the boys. When they were six months old, it seemed that wasn’t going to happen, but she tortured them. They were burned, beaten, locked in cages. Literally. Horrible things. So these boys grew up not having an iota of love in their lives. And when they were thirteen they ran away from home, in New York. I think they joined the Marine Corps. There are a lot of fuzzy areas, because my dad never talked about it. I knew there was something, but I didn’t know the whole story. His twin brother is still alive but won’t communicate with me.
But I knew I was named after Betty Eaton because that’s where my dad ended up. And when I went there to see her this time, she shared all the stories and filled in a lot of the gaps. He had gotten out of the Marine Corps, and he and his twin brother went to Wyoming to be lumberjacks because they didn’t want their family to find them. It was cold. The weather in Wyoming can be pretty brutal. It was like the 1950s, a tiny little town called Saratoga, and they were there, cold, jobless, penniless, and she had a family of her own and they didn’t have much money, but she took them in. She unconditionally loved these guys.
My dad was like a feral cat. He didn’t want to be touched. Betty said that if she moved toward him, he backed away, scared. He was conditioned to unimaginable abuse. He lived with them for years, and this one day he wanted to talk to her, and she walked outside with him, and she placed her hand on the fence post…when she told me this story she started crying…and Drake put his hand on her hand. It was the first time they ever had physical contact. He said, “I’ve tried everything to make you push me away, and you won. I can tell you actually care about me.”
I knew my dad as the most amazing, loving, kind, gentle fantastic parent. He was just the world to me. And if it hadn’t been for her, he was on a death ride. He didn’t want to live. He couldn’t love. He couldn’t be loved. And he learned to love and was able to have a child and wife. It’s a big story.
CW: But look what came of it. It’s a story in which love wins.
BS: It’s big.
CW: He must have been so proud of you too.
BS: Well, I hope so. He didn’t know me in this place…I am here because he passed away. He didn’t get to experience any of this part of my life. We like to say he’s just watching us from the sunset. His ashes are here. He’s just a part of us.
RA: There’s a hundred stories in there.
CW: How would you like to be remembered?
BS: As someone that’s patient. (Laughter) And…I don’t know. I think that’s it. I just want to be remembered as someone that’s patient. I think that’s one of my biggest challenges. I don’t know how anyone sees it, but inwardly I’m always practicing patience.
CW: I wouldn’t have guessed that. You seem very patient.
RA: Especially when you see what you’ve created and consider that you worked so long to make this happen. That takes a lot of patience.
I’m wondering, do you think you’ve changed very much since you were young? From growing up to now, do you think you’ve changed a lot in the way you think about the world, in the way you thought it would be, in your goals…anything at all?
BS: I think I’ve mellowed out a lot. I was so driven. I had my daughter when I was twenty-two. When you start that young, and you’re just a mom and you’re driven, and you’re doing all the things you’re told you have to do as a mom, whether it’s the way you keep your house, or where they go to school, there are just so many expectations. I finally realized that we don’t have to subscribe to those things, and that’s a relief. I can take my son out of school. I can do that. I can make my own house. I can physically do it. The more I own my life, if I’m not doing harm to anyone, then I think it’s really okay, whereas before, I felt that I had to subscribe to all the expectations, to all the roles you were supposed to play as a wife, as a mother, as a human being, friend…whatever. I’m not ruled by that anymore.
RA: So you’re free to follow your own wisdom.
BS: I think so, although I don’t even know what that looks like.
CW: Did you have any religious or spiritual background?
BS: My dad had none, but Betty was Mormon. When they moved in with her, my dad became Mormon but shed that quickly. He didn’t stay in that, but his twin brother is still Mormon and had a bunch of kids, and I don’t know how many grandchildren. My mom was raised Seventh Day Adventist. So those were sort of in the background of my childhood, but not to the degree that they had much bearing. But I’ve always felt that there was something bigger than ourselves. I could never steal anything, not even a penny candy, if I was double dog dared, ‘cause I just knew that somebody was watching somewhere. We didn’t have mini-cams then, but I just didn’t want to disappoint. Someone was holding me accountable.
CW: That’s called integrity.
BS: Is that what it is? It’s not paranoia? (Laughter)
CW: But there’s a spiritual aspect to your worldview…I think? Would you say so?
BS: I think so. I believe there is something way bigger than ourselves. And I don’t feel I have to put a name to it. I just believe. It feels good. I never feel alone. There’s always that something there, whispering the messages, when you don’t feel like you know what to do and you’re quiet for a moment, and…ah! Where did that come from?
I don’t meditate. I don’t do yoga. I don’t do any of the cool stuff. I’m just not interested. But I can be in a room filled with people, which is most of the time, and I’ll just be thinking about something, and there’s like a relaxing of my mind. I’m not trying to solve a particular problem; things are just sort of percolating. And then I hear the little bell. There it is! And it's so spot on. It’s as if I locked into something that’s leading me into the next phase of things.
And when that doesn’t work, I realize I don’t have to be doing anything alone. There are all these other people who, if they just know I need help with something, will help. That’s recent in my life too. I always felt like I had to be the trooper, but I can sit with my family and say I just can’t do this anymore, and everyone just picks up the slack, no problem. I can express it before we get to that meltdown point where I’m just a wreck. That’s the secret trick.